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The migrant trail to Europe

Panorama have returned to West Africa to once again pick up the trail of migrants who are willing to risk everything for the chance of a new life in Europe.

Following on from my work in Destination Europe in September 2007 and Destination UK in January 2008, I have kept a travel log of the team's experiences.

Over the weeks leading up to our programme, Europe or Die Trying - which was broadcast on Monday, 14 September on BBC One - I blogged about everything from the palpable emotion of a cave that was once used to process slaves being shipped to America, to the delicate negotiations of dangerous border crossings, to a treacherous trip through the barren Sahara that claims the lives of desperate migrants on a near-daily basis.

My work on this topic continues, with Panorama's next installment of the story, Migrants, Go Home! due for broadcast in the coming weeks.

On patrol near the Libya-Algeria border

We are in a four-wheel drive and the temperature is in the mid-40s. The air con is not an option because if we need to get out in a hurry, the camera lens will steam up in the heat. So we sheet sweat. The driver is playing traditional Libyan music at full volume. We are in a cavalcade of four vehicles, and we've hit a sandbank soft as dust.
The wheels are spinning but there's simply no traction. Each time it happens, the driver and other patrol members dig them out double-speed and we're off again.

pauldesert.jpg

In the afternoon, we come to a rock gully. The uniformed Libyan patrols leap out and beckon me. This, they say, is the most popular route for migrants crossing the border. By the time those attempting the crossing reach this point, they will have walked for four days. I sip water like oxygen.

There are abandoned rucksacks, trousers and shoes. When the migrants run out of water, they begin hallucinating, and then a kind of madness overtakes them and they throw away anything weighing them down.

We come across an African man lying down like he's sunbathing, legs bent at the knees, hands out to the sides. He's got a coloured cloth over his face like he's hiding from the sun. The patrols estimate he has been here for two weeks.

Another mile up the pass, and I can see the Panorama cameraman is struggling. I'm concentrating on each step. I keep my hat on, but any exposed flesh feels like it's been dabbed with acid.

The next African is lying down with the back of his wrist over his forehead, like he's just woken up. One of his calves has been eaten by a jackal.

Every day, 150 migrants cross the Libyan border trying to get to the Mediterranean coast. Most are economic migrants. It has become a pejorative term. But seeing what they have endured in their desperate bid to reach Europe makes you ask yourself - what degree of poverty must they be suffering to attempt to walk the Sahara?

At night we sleep on the sand beneath a biblical sky. The smell of the bodies is still with me.

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