The European dream: made in Africa
By Martijn van Tol
Published on : 11 December 2009 – 4:48pm |
The streets are paved with gold and money grows on trees. As soon as you arrive you can start living the good life. This is Europe, seen through African eyes.
Less well known in Africa is the hard reality of life in Europe as an immigrant without a passport. The image of the European dream is hard to contend with, as the Ugandan Ssuuna Golooba has found out. His efforts to open African eyes are backed by the Netherlands.
Welcome to paradise
Happy New Year! a tipsy Dutch woman yells at the young Ssuuna Golooba. She throws her arms around him and whispers in his ear, You are so beautiful! Its 31 December 2003 and life is smiling on Mr Golooba. Just a month earlier he was living in Uganda, with no prospects ahead of him. Now hes managed reach the Netherlands without a passport, and hes in paradise. Within a year Ill have made it! he tells anyone willing to listen.
Six years later, Mr Golooba now knows better. Without papers it was hard to find work. Dutch people find it rather strange to have a male cleaner, the Ugandan discovered, so he put up notices saying Woman looking for cleaning job.
The European dream turned out to be vacuuming floors and cleaning toilets, day in, day out, for very little money. On top of that came the loneliness, discrimination, and constant fear of the authorities. He was also aware of his own vulnerability. Illegal immigrants are easy prey for people out to exploit them.
But back home, expectations still ran high:
Someone elses car
In my culture, as the oldest son Im responsible for my parents. Im the head of the family so everyone relies on my money. I first have to take care of myself, then my wife and children in Uganda, and then my cousins, nephews and nieces. But in the end other villagers also come knocking on my mothers door. Because everyone knows she has a son in Europe. So for example if someone dies, they come to her for money for a coffin.
Mr Golooba saw that many migrants hold back the disappointing truth from their families in Africa. They have photos of themselves taken in Europe in front of someone elses house and car, and say theyve made their fortunes. Theyre too ashamed to tell the truth, says Mr Golooba. Theyve used family capital to travel to Europe, so people are expecting a return. Youd be mad to start complaining.
The fire in a detention centre in Amsterdam in 2005, in which eleven illegal immigrants were killed, was a turning point for Mr Golooba:
I thought, that could have been me! Why should I keep quiet so other people keep coming here and suffering like me? How long does it have to go on, how long? My message is dont risk your life, because its a big gamble. Be aware that you can expect a surprise in Europe.
With a Dutch friend of his, who is a filmmaker, Mr Golooba decided to make a documentary about his experience in the Netherlands, as a warning to Africans saving to make the journey. The collaboration has now resulted in the media project Surprising Europe. It includes a website documenting the stories of countless migrants, and a seven-part television series, aimed at showing an African audience the reality of existence as an illegal immigrant in Europe.
The Dutch government is providing a large proportion of the funding for the project, and this smacks of political influence. Are Mr Golooba and his Dutch friend and filmmaker Roger Kappers letting themselves be exploited for the Fortress Europe agenda, with their message that Africans should stay at home? Mr Kappers doesnt think so.
Were not an extension of the Dutch government. We dont tell people to stay away, but to be well informed. Decide for yourself, but know what youre getting into. For example, we also tell the success stories.
The questions is whether an African audience will be willing to listen to Mr Golooba and Mr Kappers. Nigerian immigrant Emanuel was just as full of hope as Mr Golooba when he arrived illegally in Rotterdam in 2004. Would the Surprising Europe website have influenced his decision to hazard the journey to Europe?
Even if Id seen the website, I think I still would have come. Personally I dont keep anything from my family in Nigeria, I tell them the real story about my life here, that the journey is dangerous, and life here is lonely and difficult. Even so, my brothers and cousins still want to come, the European magnet is strong. Many people will see the website and still not believe it.
The faith in a European paradise remains unshakeable and warnings fall on deaf ears unfortunately for Mr Golooba and his mission. Ultimately he has profited from his own misery and plays the leading role in is own film. Thanks to Europe, hes a success story after all.