Dispatch from Ghardaïa: Meeting Bintu at the ‘Door to the Desert’
The buses left Algiers almost a day ago. Although the buses are comfortable, it has been a long day on the road for everyone.
It is late June, and the convoy has arrived in Ghardaïa, northern-central Algeria – the door to the desert. As a member of an official delegation, I have come to visit and collect information about the transit facility in Ghardaïa, and the services provided to the migrants headed south. There is media attention on this official visit.
I walk through the big hall of the transit facility, and children start running all around me, willing to engage and exchange. Finally, I manage to start a conversation with a young Nigerien girl. She is shy but willing to talk.
Her name is Bintu and she is 11 years old. I ask her where she comes from and she says Zinder in Niger. She speaks excellent Arabic, unlike most of the other migrants travelling with us, so I ask her where she learned the language.
"I learned Arabic on the streets of Algiers while I was begging with my younger sister; she is seven years old,” Bintu explains. “We arrived in Algeria 11 months ago." But she is not proud of this ability to speak Arabic, and tells me that for her it was merely a matter of survival for her to adjust to conversation with locals.
She tells me that she travelled with strangers from Niger to the northern shores of Algeria, leaving her family behind in Niger. She seems happy with the idea of being reunified with her family and community soon, adding that it has been hard for her to be far from everyone and to spend time begging for little money on the streets of Algiers.
She does not say much about the trip to Algeria, nor her living conditions while she was there; the conversation is too short for me to earn her trust. But before we say goodbye, she looks at me and says: "I am looking forward to seeing my mum, dad, brothers and sisters back home. But I do not know what life will bring me. I would like to have a decent future. Will I be able to go to school, to keep learning as I did learn Arabic? Will I have a real future?”
I cannot answer her questions, but I have the conviction that any child on earth deserves equal opportunities for a bright future. I get the sense that this young girl is talented, and beyond borders or differences, we all have to keep working together to provide real opportunities for every child.
Two days later, I will see Bintu for the last time before her departure from Ghardaïa to Niger. I can see determination on her face. I hope it’s enough to secure her a stable future.
Pascal Reyntjens is IOM Chief of Mission in Algeria