Tens of kilometers from nowhere is a town called Oussoubidiagna that is inhabited by ghosts. The maps say it is in Mali, in the Kayes region, in the northwest of the country, but what do the maps know. With no running water or electricity, no hospital, no institute, no factories or shops, in its streets flooded by rain and among its mud houses, some young people occasionally peek out from here and there.

They dream of leaving, like their older brothers did, today in France or in Spain, or like the 400 who in the last 20 years disappeared on the roads, swallowed by land or by sea. Mamadou Cissokhó, the first mayor to have the town (of about 4,000 inhabitants) and today president of the Felascom Community Health Association, is the only one who has bothered to do the math. All lost, all ghosts, first on the route to the Canary Islands or the Strait, now swallowed by the hell of Libya or in the Mediterranean. Behind each Open Arms, each Aquarius, each boat adrift, jump to the fence or canoe there are hundreds of Oussoubidiagnas.

When it rains, the unpaved streets of Oussoubidiagna fill with huge puddles. J. L. R.

At the age of ten, Habibu Cissokhó was already mastering the hoe and bending his back in the peanut field. Two decades later he felt that he was beginning to grow old, stuck in the same furrow. He decided to go on the “adventure”, as they call the journey undertaken to leave their homes. “We meet on a beach in Mauritania. We were, I don’t know, 75 or 80 people. There were people from Senegal, from the Ivory Coast, from Mali. We were scared, but nobody wanted to look back, “he recalls. After six days at sea, the island of Gran Canaria. “Two died,” he adds, as if to say “we were cold” or “it was windy,” as if it were just one more circumstance of the trip. Three weeks later he was expelled. Start again.

Habibu Cissokhó has tried the jump twice, for the Canary Islands and Libya

Only a furious succession of holes and ditches that they call “the track” reaches Oussoubidiagna. Habibu Cissokhó, almost turned into a spirit, was seen retracing that path and arriving with his head down. To the groove again. “It is the only economic activity of the people, that and some animals,” says Mamadou Cissokhó, the community leader, the memory of other times. “Before, it rained much more, there was work, the crops flourished in the fields. Now we cannot stop young people, we have nothing to offer them, ”he adds bitterly.

Despite being among the top gold producers in Africa, Mali (about 18 million inhabitants), in the heart of the Sahel, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Since 2012 he has been involved in a conflict with jihadist groups that has been breaking the social and inter-community fabric, especially in the north and center, in the Mopti region. The French and United Nations military presence at the forefront of this conflict, and the European Union in the formation of the Malian Army, has not prevented the violence from escalating and even spreading to neighboring countries. As far as Kayes, where Oussoubidiagna is located, the echo of the massacres hardly reaches, but here they also suffer the weakness of a broken state.

In the house of Sanou Sakiliba, 50, you can hear the daily hustle and bustle. Children running around, the bustle of food, people passing by and ghost-like photos on the walls. This woman’s breastplate is indestructible. Her eldest son Fassara left one day. With your help, with everyone’s. Since he was only 16 years old, they forged a passport with two more years so that he could get a visa. Plane to France. Fourteen years have passed and are still without papers. Still, it is a blessing. “He helped us build the house and if someone gets sick I call him and send us money,” says Salikiba. At Oussoubidiagna they know it well. Where you have to pay even for an injection, a few bills are the difference between life and death.

But another son of Sanou Sakiliba wanted to emulate his brother. In 2014, at the age of 26, he set out on the road to Europe, which at that time passed through Libya. “Then he was already married and had two children, but he couldn’t buy them shoes or even a simple soap to wash, how can we say no if we all wanted his success?” Explains his mother. They knew that he reached the beach and that he got on a boat until they stopped knowing. Then nothing. Silence. “One year I was trying to find out, I called everyone in Libya, their friends, those who saw it, the traffickers. Until I got tired. Is dead”. Boubalé Cissokhó was called the boy, who even ghosts have a name wherever they go.

A four-hour hospital

Young girls from Oussoubidiagna carry on their heads plates of food for their parents or husbands who work in the surrounding fields. J. L. R.

In a room only dressed with a rug and two wooden benches, a group of teenagers takes refuge from the rain of this waning wet season. Kalillu Diallo, youth representative on the communal council, explains it in his words. “You are at home, your friend or your brother are gone and everyone talks about them as heroes, with admiration. We know the dangers, they do not hide anything from us, we know the dead, but it is a bet. Win or die”. The last sentence hangs in the air, it slides before the eyes of the kids, it moves away towards the wet street where huge puddles are already beginning to form. They smile. A few years ago the Government began to build a place for them, the only one in the entire region, but the work stopped. They don’t know why. Nor did they ask.

At the health center, two-year-old Moriké Dembelé fights for his life. He arrived with severe malnutrition complicated by edema and bodily injury. “It is improving, thank God,” says Dr. Ibrahima Traoré. His grandmother Coumba Baradji cares for him because his mother must take care of his five brothers. The Spanish NGO Médicos del Mundo has identified the health needs in the area and, if it obtains funding, will launch a project to support health. A drop in the desert. But it is something. “Severe malnutrition, diarrhea, infections, typhoid fevers, ulcers, and kidney cramps due to the high presence of lime in the water are the main emergencies,” says Mamadou Cissokhó. If something gets complicated, bad. The nearest hospital is a thousand potholes and four hours away. In the rain, we have to wait for it to escape.

In the dim light of her room, the sixty-year-old Teguida Diallo clings to the only photo she has of her son Makan Kanouté as a castaway to her table. “He died at sea,” he says. It is the only thing that knows. That and that with him were many others from Oussoubidiagna. “I think there were 17 in the same boat,” he adds. It was in 2014. The boy was married and had four children. “A heavy burden to bear, his death multiplied our problems. We survive thanks to the neighbors ”, Diallo rivets. In the back room of the “adventure”, broken widows and mothers are not left alone. There will always be a plate of food, a place at the table in the house of those who were luckier.

Moriké Cissokhó drags a backpack full of sorrows. He is not even 24 years old, but his scars are already besieging him. Some are seen on his back, from when he was beaten in Libya to pay for his release. Others are not seen but they also hurt. “I was imprisoned for two months at Bani Walid. They tortured me because they wanted my money. My family fixed it and we were ruined. I could no longer return and I arrived in Tripoli. Up to four times I tried, but we were always surprised by the police, ”he says, like in a litany. Next to him, sitting in a rickety three-legged chair, Mohamed Cissokhó raises his right hand and shows his three amputated fingers. “They did this to me in Libya,” he says.

In a Libyan prison

Habibu Cissokhó, with his wife and two of his children, has tried to emigrate to Europe twice. J. L. R.

It is to name that country and it changes their faces. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Libya is the deadliest migration route in the world, a necessary way station to reach Greece or Italy. Despite the allegations of slavery, the certainty of suffering and torture, the human river that flows into Tripoli does not stop flowing. Last July there were almost 650,000 emigrants in this African country. “Of course I knew it, I read the news, I listen to my colleagues, we know it. But that is one thing and another very different thing is to live it in your own flesh. If tomorrow they tell me to return to Libya, I say no. So now I’m stuck, ”says Moriké Cissokhó.

“I called everywhere. He is dead ”, says a woman about one of her children

On one side of the street, block houses that show are old. On the other, mud huts that have to be redone, a corner here, a piece of roof there, every time it rains. Like now. The elderly Mamadou Cissokhó spoke again: “This is the difference. Some have been able to build with the money they send from Europe, dozens of them; Others failed and their families suffer. First for the loss; second because of poverty ”. The “adventure” is not the problem, but misery. According to the Government itself, Mali has more than one million emigrants (1,066,120 in 2017), that is, 6% of its population, the majority in neighboring African countries, such as the Ivory Coast or Nigeria. Reaching Europe are bigger words.

Habibu Cissokhó, who was expelled from Gran Canaria in 2008, tried again in 2015. First he went to Equatorial Guinea, where he collected the money working as a bricklayer, and then again heading to Europe. But he also ran into Libya. “The first ship sank, we were going 130 or so and half died. We were not far from the coast, so I went swimming again ”, he says with a blank look. “In jail if you don’t pay, they hit you. We slept on the people who died the night before, ”he recalls as he touches his forearms with both hands because it must have been where the smell and the memory stayed.

From the ‘canoe crisis’ to Libya

From January 1 to July 19, 3,959 refugees and migrants had been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard. Malians are the third largest group (12% of the total), after Sudanese and Egyptians, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The number of arrivals Europe declined sharply in 2018. Nothing to do with the long million entries in 2015, during the so-called refugee crisis (via Greece). Strengthening border controls in the Aegean diverted the main access routes from Europe to the western (via the Strait) and central (via Malta and Italy) Mediterranean. This year, however, Greece has again registered the highest influx of arrivals (55,348, as of October 28, according to UNHCR).

The precedent One of the current migratory crises in the western Mediterranean is the so-called canoe crisis in the Canary Islands in 2006, with 39,000 arrivals, most of them sub-Saharan. So far this year, arrivals in Spain have decreased by 53.3% compared to the first ten months of 2018, except in the Canary Islands, where there is an increase of 21%, and Ceuta (49.4% ), according to data from the Ministry of the Interior.

Libya It is the key to the route of the central Mediterranean (towards Italy and Malta), and the most frequent starting point for the sub-Saharan, although not the only one: they also depart from Tunisia or Egypt. Since January, according to UNHCR, 2,738 refugees and migrants have arrived from those coasts to Malta, and 9,427, to Italy, a record well below that obtained between 2016 and 2018.

He has already turned 41 years old. He lives in two rooms with hardly any furniture and sleeps in a bed he shares with his wife and younger children. “Every day I see them and I am horrified to think that they will have the same opportunities to get ahead that I had: none,” says Cissokhó with regret. At the moment they are not going to school. Homework is heavy. The rain falls again. A procession of young girls carries, between laughter and girls’ games, some bowls on their heads to carry food to those who work in the surrounding fields. Those who have not yet left. Those who had to return. The ones that will leave someday. Ghosts