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To Europe or Die Trying

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 - scheduled for Monday, 14 September on BBC One - and beyond, I will continue to blog 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.

Tripoli, Libya

Half the luggage didn't arrive. In a word - horror. No tripod, lights, microphones. So we can't do anything.

Filming permits for Libya are not easy get, so you don't want to spend the first day becalmed in a hotel.


All the buildings in Tripoli are being repainted cream and green in preparation for the Revolution Celebrations. It is 40 years since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi led the military coup. His new portrait hangs from state buildings, hotel foyers, even the crumbling antiques shops in the Medina.

Our fixer - the man on the ground who helps to organise our visit - tells me various titles for the Colonel which I had been unaware of: "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiraya", "The lone Eagle", and my favourite "The architect of the great manmade river".

Early next morning we return to the airport, and thankfully the filming equipment has arrived. We are off to a place very few westerners have been. In fact, the British Embassy tells me we are the first Brits to see it in at least a decade.

We catch a flight to Ghat, an ancient desert town in the Sahara. The views are Martian. The "sea of sand" drifts to the curve of the earth. Rocky cliffs like the Grand Canyon, then lifeless plains and more sand. Surreal formations: wind-worn rocks stacked like giant skittles.

Ghat airport is busier than expected. There are men in brightly coloured desert turbans,
Tuareg tribesmen in indigo gowns, women covered from head to toe.

Our welcome party comprises a number of high ranking military officers in desert camouflage, a couple of police drivers, and some Libyan secret service (who turned out to be a lot more personable than their title might suggest). We're off, in cavalcade, along a tarmac road that's hammered by such fierce sun I can't believe it's not runny.

Filming starts tomorrow, along the spectacular border area. We'll be looking for migrants heading across the desert, towards the Mediterranean where they'll board boats for Europe. They have to cross the Sahara somewhere, and this is the most likely place.

In the evening, there's nothing to do but check water bottles, tents, factor 50 suncream and medical supplies. I try to re-read Heart of Darkness but the air-con is thundering away, so go for a jog around town instead, past some 16th century clay houses.

The sun is so low in the sky, even the stones throw long shadows. People peer out of their homes at the mad white man. A police car drives by and gives me a concerned honk.

We are about to embark on a journey to catch up with migrants risking their last breath for the chance of a life in Europe.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am puzzled by the depth of this tragedy. Thousands of people trying to leave their homeland for a dream that doesn't exist. A tiny island like the UK brimming over with more and more people who want to make it their home. Still the one global problem that if solved would solve 90% of all other problems - overpopulation – remains almost unaddressed. With half the population, this planet could be paradise for everyone. Why, fifty years after the invention of the pill, is global birth control still taboo, instead of being the number one priority?

  • Comment number 2.

    I would be the first to agree with you, Saucy, except that the solution you have proposed, population control, is somewhat simplistic. The dream to which you refer, was stolen from the people of sub Sahara Africa by the colonial practices of the British and the French. While the massive migration is a tragic event in human history, we cannot exonerate the colonists for the problems of today. Also, we are experiencing the 'Malthusian Curse' or the 'Malthusian collapse', terms that were coined by Thomas Robert Malthus when he observed that human population would increase geometricall, doubling about every 25 years if unchecked while agricultural production increased arithmetically - much more slowly. That, my friend, lies the biological trap from which humanity can never escape and the pill is NOT the solution!

    I, like many of the migrants in the story that Paul Kenyon accurately covered, I immigrated to USA in search of the gloden fleece; I am one of the very fortunate ones. The problem of the economic migration is a global problem that requires a global solution - a concerted effort of the UN, the World Bank, IMF, etc. I am reminded of the saying, "to whom much is given, much is expected." It is time for the countries of the west to step up to the plate and right the wrongs of colonialism and neo-colonialism.


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