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The Naked Anthropologist · smuggling


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ladywithaguncYou can now watch sessions from the University of Texas at Austin November 22-24 conference on Sexual Citizenship and Human Rights: What Can the US Learn from the EU and European Law? The panel called Sex Work, Migration and Trafficking was held on the 23rd, where my original talk was called ‘Contentious and contradictory: Prostitution-law campaigns in Europe‘.

But when I saw that the other two speakers on the panel were speaking on trafficking, one of them from a Rescue-Industry standpoint and the other juridical, I threw out that talk and gave another, hoping to give a humanist context to the other presentations. I called the new talk Denial of Consent, because consent had been mentioned frequently at this event in regard to adolescents’ right to have sex, which was even claimed to be a human-rights concept. I was struck that no one mentioned the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines everyone under 18 as a child and is constantly used by anti-prostitution campaigners to claim that adolescents who sell sex cannot consent. One might think consent is easily granted to boys and not to girls.

It’s a mistake, in a three-day conference dedicated to the subtleties of sexual citizenship, to dump three deep topics – Sex Work, Migration and Trafficking- into a single panel. Each of those deserves a panel of its own, or alternatively a panel could be devoted to just one of those, making sure all the speakers address it. I ended up doing double work, and it was not easy to limit my introduction to only 30 minutes. A lot is omitted in what you hear below, so I hope it all makes sense. The event was held in a Law School, which explains the rather dramatic courtroom setting, with me a witness in the box.

The session is introduced at 01:30 in the below video by Gloria González López of the Center for Mexican American Studies. My talk begins a minute later and ends at 35:58. The third speaker (Janet Halley) was present via Skype, so you cannot see but perhaps you can hear her. Should the videos fail, you can watch on youtube.

Other conference sessions can be viewed here.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Although there are two protocols on migration attached to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, trafficking is increasingly the word used to describe any undocumented migration. The reporter of this story from South America has no idea whether the migrants involved were being badly exploited or not (which would make them trafficked), since the only information available is that forged documents were detected – which may simply mean that the migrants paid to be transported to Suriname (which would make them smuggled).

Many don’t understand smuggling processes or the devious routes sometimes used. In another story involving Schiphol Airport, women defined as from Eastern Europe were arriving in Amsterdam possibly to sell sex. In a comments-discussion afterwards I pointed out that being legally attached to a country does not mean one is travelling from that place, whether one is a tourist or undocumented migrant, so the women in question could have been arriving from anywhere. They also might have been acting fully on their own, buying tickets online, or smugglers or traffickers could be involved – there was no evidence to illuminate this in that story, either. Since most smugglers are individuals belonging to small networks (as opposed to large mafia-type organisations), routes depend on contacts and opportunities known to smugglers at the moment and thus change all the time.

The route used in the story below began somewhere in China, passed through Tanzania and was supposed to navigate Amsterdam in order to arrive in Suriname. I suppose the Chinese leader had jobs lined up in Suriname and provided documents acceptable to Tanzanian border officials (if they checked transit passengers at all). Attempting to go through a hyper-aware European airport like Schiphol seems dim: Forged documents are more likely to be recognised in such a city, and transit passengers may also be scrutinised. The smuggler did a bad job, whether he was planning to exploit migrants or was a nice person or not.

Smuggled Chinese detained in Holland en route to Suriname

Stabroek News (Guyana) 30 November 2011

Paramaribo – The judicial authorities in Suriname have not been officially informed yet by the Netherlands about the detention of a group of Chinese who wanted to travel to Suriname with forged documents. This is said by coalition Parliamentarian Ricardo Panka, chairman of the committee for Foreign Affairs in Parliament. Last week, officials at Schiphol airport detained six Chinese in connection with human trafficking. They had arrived from Tanzania and were on their way to Suriname. One of them, a man from Hong Kong, was the leader of the other five. They were caught when their documents turned out to be forgeries. Dutch media reported this event last Friday. Panka says that the Surinamese government has not given an official reaction yet, because an official report from the Netherlands has not received yet. . .

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Recently I wrote about how the term debt bondage is often used to imply there is something peculiarly primitive and unjust about migrants’ agreeing to pay off smugglers by doing jobs not of their choosing for which they receive little pay until debts are paid off. The example was Vietnamese nail salons. But in a non-migrant example, students often comment on the horrendous loans they are forced to take in order to get degrees; a report from late last year said about the US: Seniors who graduated last year carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt. . . an approximately 6 percent rise in debt over the previous year. Many in the mainstream lament this debt without talking about it as demonic or enslaving.

Other discussions of debt bondage are typically illustrated with sadder pictures than this one of children at work as another way to demonise debt as an institution, as though a debt-free existence were the normal enlightened way to live. As though the parents that put their children into these jobs in order to make money were monsters – and so on.

So it is refreshing to read anthropologist David Graeber problematising conventional ideas about debt in an interview at The New Left Project, particularly the way some debts are seen as enslaving while others are not.

In America, for instance, pretty much everybody is in debt. The great social evil in antiquity, the thing that Sharia law and medieval canon law were trying to ensure never happened again, was the scenario in which a family gets so deep in debt that they are forced to sell themselves, or sell their children, into slavery. What do you have here today? You have a population all of whom are in debt, and who are essentially renting themselves to employers to do jobs that they almost certainly wouldn’t want to do otherwise, to be able to pay those debts. If Aristotle were magically transported to the U.S. he would conclude that most of the American population is enslaved, because for him the distinction between selling yourself and renting yourself is at best a legalism. This, again, is why I say that our definitions of freedom are bizarre – we’ve managed to take a situation which most people in the ancient world would have recognised as a form of slavery and turned it into the definition of freedom (your ability to contract debts, your ability to sell your labour on the market, and so on). In the process we have created the very thing that all that old legislation and all of those old political practices were designed to avoid.

Also created: a phantom, the Return of the Slave, conveniently found in far-away non-western nations and amongst indistinguishable masses of women and children. The point isn’t that debt is all good or all bad but that it exists everywhere, and its bondage is often seen as lamentable, yes, but as acceptable – something people are meant to struggle to pay off as part of normal life. Which is what most migrants think about the debts they incur to travel and work abroad.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Sex trafficking campaigners often single out Nigerian women as the worst case of sex trafficking, because of debts that sound the largest and the sometime presence of so-called rituals that are supposed to have bound these migrants in a specially sinister way to their traffickers. It’s old-fashioned racist colonialism – an unwillingness to imagine even the most superficial aspects of a non-western culture, jumping to lurid conclusions instead, in which juju ceremonies are somehow not comparable to Roman Catholic ones, for example – though promises, talismen and emotion are found in both. As though one sort of prayer for help or success were inherently irrational and the other not.

That’s not to say that conditions are not pretty dire for many women and men in western Africa, politically and economically – which means people can be willing to take big risks and assume onerous debts when they travel to work abroad. I learned about how some migrants think about that in Lucciole neri – Le prostitute nigeriane si raccontano (Iyamu Kennedy and Pino Nicotri, editors, 1999), one of my sources of ethnographic research with migrants who sell sex in Europe, for what eventually became Sex at the Margins. These Nigerians were working in Italy.

On Black Sisters’ Street, by Chika Unigwe, came out in 2009, but I have only just read it (prompted by This is Africa’s mention of it along with my book recently). It’s a novel telling the stories of four women’s migrations from Nigeria to Belgium where they work in windows in the red-light district. None of them has had an easy life and none of them sees herself as a victim, despite the presence of a powerful smuggler in Lagos and a controlling madam in Antwerp. They are, the author says, willing to play the trump card that God has wedged in between their legs. Unigwe has said:

If your parents can’t help you out and your government has failed you, these pimps and traffickers have at least given you a chance to leave and make a living. He’s your saviour. It takes someone outside the situation to see these pimps and traffickers as the bad guys.

At the end of the book we are told how three of the women fare in the future. After nine years in Antwerp, Efe became a madam herself.

It would take eighteen months to get her first of two girls whom she would indeed buy at an auction presided by a tall, good-looking Nigerian man in sunglasses and a beret. It would be in a house in Brussels, with lots to drink and soft music playing in the background. The women would enter the country with a musical band billed to perform at the Lokerenfeest. The man in the sunglasses was the manager of the band and as usual had, in addition to genuine members of the band, added the names of the women who had paid him to the list he submitted at the embassy in Abuja. The women would be called into the room one at a time for the buyers to see and admire. They would all have numbers, for names were not important. Their names would be chosen by whoever bought them. Names that would be easy for white clients to pronounce… Efe would buy numbers five and seven. Number five because she smiled easily. Number seven because she looked docile and eager to please, the sort of girl who was grateful for little. Like Madam, Efe would have some police officers on her payroll to ensure the security of her girls and of her business. She would do well in the business, buying more girls to add to her fleet. pp 278-9

Yes, this is an auction where employers bid on women who will sell sex. It is not slave-trading, however.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist




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Migrants who use smugglers to help them travel but can’t pay for services beforehand may borrow and agree to work off the debt however smugglers want. The formal term debt bondage makes this practice sound more drastic than it need be: total unfreedom is not the norm and does not warrant newly fashionable slavery language, which bondage is. Migrants accept that borrowing money is necessary and the loan of money is considered a service provided for a fee. Of course, when smugglers turn abusive, migrants may not know how to get away, and things can get bad. But consider the following description of debt bondage from ‘Through the Looking Glass: Finding and Freeing Modern-Day Slaves at the State Level’ by Michelle L. Rickert.

For example, in Vietnamese nail salons, as recounted by one nail technician who has grown up in the nail business, if a person wants to come over to the United States, she will work with a family member in the United States who will finance the move. Once in the United States, she will live with the family member and pay about three-fourths of her paycheck as payment of the debt. The nail technician recounted this story to explain how Vietnamese nail salon owners help new immigrants out; however, one can see how this situation could easily be abused, and that there is a slippery slope between smuggling and trafficking.[56]

In Pennsylvania, Lynda Dieu Phan recruited A.V. from Vietnam and held her in debt bondage without compensation for over three years.[57] Phan preyed upon the fact that A.V. could not read or write English and coerced her into signing over all of her bank statements and checks.[58] A.V. worked six days a week for eleven hours a day and five hours on Sundays. She was not paid anything except some of the tips that were given to her by customers. Furthermore, she was forced to cook and clean at Phan’s home where she lived. Phan brought over another young woman from Vietnam, and the two girls shared a room, sleeping on the floor.[59] After three years of A.V. working without pay, she had fulfilled her debt. However, Phan did not tell A.V. that she had fulfilled her debt; A.V. did not complain until 2007—seven years later.[60]

56. Interview with Anonymous Nail Technician, in Lynchburg, Va. (Jan. 8, 2010).
57. United States v. Phan, 628 F. Supp. 2d 562 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (deciding a motion concerning the validity of seizing certain documents while searching the house pursuant to a search warrant).58. Id. at 566.
59. Id.
60. Id.

from Liberty University Law Review, Vol. 4: XXX, p 14.


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Protocols attached to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo, 2000) attempt to distinguish between the trafficking and smuggling of people. The trafficking protocol explicitly mentions women, children, coercion and prostitution and fails to mention the will to travel. The smuggling protocol, in contrast, discusses men as migrants and does not mention sex or prostitution. This gender bias has several negative, confusing effects and is far from vaunted goals of Gender Equality.

  • Women are positioned as sexually vulnerable above all
  • Women are lumped with children as though we were children
  • Women are not seen as capable of initiating migrations
  • Women are not seen as capable of preferring to sell sex over other options
  • Men are not seen as capable of being trafficked in the worst sense
  • Men are not seen as capable of preferring to sell sex over other options
  • Men are associated with dodgy behaviour such as paying someone to help them get around the rules

The following three news clips illustrate how sex and gender often have little to do with irregular (also known as unauthorised, undocumented and illegal) travel. These incidents would be called smuggling. In at least two of the following cases migrants can’t be called undocumented, because papers have been provided for them – just not their own correct papers.  The point is that many skilled smugglers and traffickers go about their business without resorting to the sort of obvious violence and near-kidnapping that makes sensational stories. Whether a candidate for travelling abroad to work considers selling sex or not, his or her best route is to find someone to arrange for convincing papers. While campaigners shriek about near-kidnappings and women in chains, the industry in false papers goes on its sophisticated way. This is one reason why queues get longer and slower at borders. Note in two of the following cases that officials (one from an embassy and one from a national immigration bureaucracy) are the smugglers.

NB: The fact that false papers were provided does not mean that no traumatic experiences were involved for migrants, that there was no violence or that they knew exactly what they were getting into. We also don’t know which jobs they got or whether they liked them. Sex is not the defining element to these stories, yet many migrants who sell sex use these conventional, if illegal, methods for entering other countries.

CASE 1 – ICE Investigator Arrested For Accepting Bribe

World Journal,  Nov 29, 2008

NEW YORK – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigator Pedro Cintron was arrested for taking bribes from human smugglers and helping them to illegally transport Chinese people from Ecuador to the United States. The World Journal reports that once convicted, he could be sentenced into prison for up to 57 years. Cintron, 52, investigated Chinese human smuggling from Ecuador to the United States in 2004 and 2005. He took over $20,000 bribe from the smuggler and helped several Chinese successfully land to the United States.

CASE 2 – Dominican Diplomat Arrested for Smuggling Dozens to US

CaribWorldNews, Dec 09, 2008

NEW YORK — An employee at the Consulate of the Dominican Republic in New York City has been arrested on charges of migrant smuggling.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have arrested 48 year-old, Francisco Estevez, also known as “Danilo,” on charges of using his family’s passports and consular visas to bring dozens of illegal aliens into the United States from the Dominican Republic during 2007 through 2008.

According to the indictment unsealed Monday in Manhattan federal court, as a full-time employee at a consular post, Estevez held a diplomatic visa that allowed him and his family members-his mother, wife, and six children-to enter and reside in the United States. In addition, he and his family were entitled to receive expedited process at passport control at the airport.

Commencing in approximately October 2007, up to and including July 2008, Estevez allegedly took advantage of his A-2 visa status to smuggle into the United States numerous Dominican nationals who posed as members of Estevez’s family, using the family’s passports and A-2 visas. Estevez made on average two trips per month to the Dominican Republic to identify aliens who could pose as members of his family and charged each alien approximately $10,000 to bring the migrants into the country illegally.

Estevez is charged with two counts of alien smuggling and if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He was arrested Friday upon his entry into the United States and is scheduled appear today before a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

CASE 3 – Filipino Admits to Smuggling Immigrants Into US

California Journal For Filipino Americans,  Jun 28, 2006

PHILADELPHIA – A Filipino man has admitted to smuggling an estimated 25 undocumented immigrants into the United States on stolen third-country passports for which they paid as much as $15,000 each, reports California Journal For Filipino Americans. Roehl Rivera, 41, of Cabanatuan City, Philippines, smuggled undocumented immigrants between May 2005 and January 2006 on Continental Airlines flights from Hong Kong to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, according to prosecuting attorney Christopher Christie. Rivera and three others were detained at the airport on Jan. 6. They were caught traveling on altered passports illegally obtained from Micronesia’s embassy in the United States. Rivera, who is charged with conspiracy to smuggle illegal immigrants for private financial gain, faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.


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Click and then click again for large image

For at least ten years international organisations have been trying to figure out how many people are trafficked: over specific borders, within particular regions and worldwide. I completely understand everyone’s frustration that someone like myself is not able to provide the real numbers. But no one can, since undocumented migrants who have been smuggled across a border (or forced to cross one against their will) do not register their presence anywhere official, and trafficking victims are a subset of undocumented migrants. (Some try to estimate the latter, see here.)

Nowadays anti-slavery activists are saying that trafficking is not just about migration but people forced to work in very bad conditions. Counting those people is equally difficult, though, since workers in the underground economy also aren’t registered as such officially, which means there are no databases to consult, which means everyone is guessing about how many there might be. One can do a decent count in a limited local area, but how long would it remain true? Mobility characterises informal labour.

Some people call all sex workers victims of trafficking. The problem with counting these is that sex businesses, whether clubs, brothels, bars, escort agencies or massage parlours, are mostly not licensed worldwide – even where they are supposed to do so legally. The result is that sex workers are also not officially registered as such and thus also cannot be counted.

Protocols to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo 2000) attempted to distinguish between two types of illegal movement across borders: smuggling and trafficking. The distinction is supposedy that the smuggled person is conscious and willing and the trafficked person is not. The trafficked one is supposed to have been coerced and forced, lied to and duped, totally innocent of any knowledge of wrongdoing, not complicit in any way. Well! It is quite difficult to find undocumented migrants who are not complicit in some way, who did not know or suspect something about what was being done to get them moving and working outside their home countries. Smuggling is also not easy to define and sort out. Organisations trying to count get confused.

The above UNESCO graph from 2004 demonstrates the huge range between estimates of trafficking victims across a range of organisations. Whenever you see a chart in which one estimate is twice the size of another, you know something is fishy. In this case, the first question to ask is: How did each organisation define trafficking? Despite repeated and ongoing efforts to reach consensus on a definition, there is none.

The next questions to ask are: What method did they use to count? Where did they get the data? Whom did they consult and whom did they not consult? The US Trafficking in Persons Report is notorious for never giving this information, for simply saying they rely on informants, who can be embassy personnel, local police, CIA agents and so on.

There may be less flagrant disagreement amongst all these organisations nowadays, though I doubt it. Deconstructions of the numbers have been published in numerous places: in the Guardian, by the US Government Accounting Office and in Salon.com among others. But to make matters worse, many of those doing the counting are now switching terms to talk of slavery: At the BBC World Debate on trafficking in Luxor, one estimate for slaves worldwide was 2.5 million, whilst Free the Slaves gave 27 million – meaning there is as little consensus for that definition as there is for trafficking. Free the Slaves’s Kevin Bales admitted basing figures on media reports a few years ago - well, what can one say? It is all a right muddle.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Smuggling migrants from Turkey, often known to insiders as the sheep trade: excerpts from an academic research article describe how smuggling is carried out, which a lot of people don’t know when they engage in anti-trafficking or anti-migration tirades.

The Sheep Trade

In contrast to the well-known tourist destinations along the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Ayvalik is an almost sleepy resort situated only a few kilometers from the Greek island of Lesbos. When we visited Ayvalik in 2003 our host told us right away that only last week a ship sailed out with 23 migrants on board and capsized somewhere nearby. Only three survived. He said: ‘The coastguard doesn’t bother to raise the sunken and stranded ships any more because there are so many of them. I can take you to one.’ The journey did not lead to a stranded ship but to another person who knew the ‘sheep trade’ from personal experience. Just a few years ago the man had helped 800 migrants to board a tanker. It happened the way it always does. He got a call from Istanbul to let him know that his help was needed. He actually succeeded in transporting the 800 people to the sparsely populated coast and from there to the tanker, which was to take them directly to Italy. A day later he got the news that the coastguard had captured the tanker.

The transport service began very small in the late 1980s and in the middle of the 1990s the Kurdish migrants began to show up. In the beginning they all traveled by public transport; then they were brought in minibuses and eventually in three or four big buses —until the police began to notice. Now they are moved in trucks, squashed together like ‘sheep’, as our host put it.

. . . With increasing and more sophisticated technologies of control, the situation has become much more difficult. The main effect was that small smugglers such as the fishermen are losing the race and well-organized smuggler networks are taking over. Another smuggler in Greece told us of his experiences with the practice of border crossings: ‘The payment only comes at the end of the deal.’ That’s the security that the customers or their relatives have. The deal is always a verbal one. When the captain has been contacted and the agreement has been made, the date is set, the ‘heads’ are counted, and finally the price and method of payment are determined. The price varies according to the number of ‘heads’ and the type of journey. The captain can earn up to €15,000 per ‘transport’.

From Transnational Migration and the Emergence of the European Border Regime: An Ethnographic Analysis. Vassilis Tsianos and Serhat Karakayali. European Journal of Social Theory, 13(3) 373–387, 2010.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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At the End HumanTrafficking event in Luxor, several people attempted to shut me up by claiming that, in their trafficking discussions, they are only talking about the worst, the authentic trafficking cases – not the smuggled migrants and not the voluntary sex workers. It would be nice if that were true, it would be great if anti-prostitution and anti-migration campaigners did not mix everyone up and muddle categories so readily – but they do. That is the point: that is why there is dissent, disagreement and resistance, because those who believe themselves to be in charge of this freedom-seeking social movement do over-generalise all the time so that simplistic labels obliterate the preferences of many people and, often, hide a project to abolish commercial sex. Note how, in this story, one term is substituted for another as though they were all synonyms. The UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime of 2002 has separate protocols for smuggling and trafficking. I have never been a fan of the distinction these protocols try to make, but it is disappointing that an organisation interested in the issues pays no attention to the distinction  and muddles categories up completely. One of the results is that the word trafficking gets used to refer to all sorts of undocumented migration, jobs in the underground economy, jobs held by people under 18, all sex jobs and so on. Everything considered bad becomes ‘trafficking’. Smuggling of migrants is usually construed as aiding undocumented people to cross borders – which does not make them victims according to the law. This is a mess.

Best business in Mexico: Human trafficking to US

1 January 2011, New World Human Security Observatory

Mexico City: Organised crime in Mexico has diversified its methods for smuggling people into the United States, a lucrative business that is growing, along with the number of victims.

Both national and foreign emigrants pay up to $7,000 to reach US territory, through the same underground tunnels the cartels for drug trafficking, La Jornada newspaper commented. The traders also transport immigrants in speedboats that take them to Imperial Beach during the night. Once there, US citizens smuggle them into the country, charging up to $8,000 per person.
The modern detection mechanisms used by US authorities along the border wall in the Tijuana-Otay area have forced human traffickers to deviate the course to other border areas.

The new method of setting up transit camps to offer shelter to the people waiting to cross the border has become a very lucrative business, with profits amounting to $3,000 per person, the paper reported on Friday.

According to UN statistics, 200 million people emigrated from their country of origin this decade, almost tripling the movement of immigrants reported in the 1960s. Of that figure, nearly 10% of emigrants use Mexico as a transit point.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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What’s interesting here is the ordinariness of smuggling as part of the plot. Le Carré wouldn’t think of making such a banal activity The Crime in one of his own novels. Rather, the mechanism of the key character’s getting into the country is just one more detail to be investigated and explained by the spies. Denmark and Sweden as countries smugglers have to cope with are unusual. Note the randomness – the migrant hoped to get to Copenhagen and would’ve liked Gothenburg but ended up in Hamburg. Although this is fiction, it’s a plausible account.

From A Most Wanted Man, by John Le Carré, 2008

‘How did you get to Hamburg in the first place?’

‘It is immaterial’ . . .

‘Didn’t you know that they treat refugees worse in this town than anywhere in Germany?’

‘Hamburg will be my home, sir. It is where they bring me. It is Allah’s divine command.’

Who brought you? Who’s they?’

‘It was combination, sir.’

‘Combination of what?’

‘Maybe Turkish people. Maybe Chechen people. We pay them. They take us to boat. Put us in container. Container had little air’. .

We? Who’s we?’

‘Was group, sir. From Istanbul. Bad group. Bad men. I do not respect these men.’

‘How many of you?’

‘Maybe twenty. Container was cold. After few hours, very cold. This ship would go to Denmark. I was happy.’

‘You mean Copenhagen, right? Copenhagen in Denmark, the capital.’

‘Yes . . . to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, I would be arranged. I would be free from bad men. But this ship did not go immediately Copenhagen. This ship must go first Sweden. To Gothenburg. Yes? . . In Gothenburg, ship will dock, ship will take cargo, then go Copenhagen. When ship arrive in Gothenburg we are very sick, very hungry. On ship they tell to us: “Make no noise. Swedes hard. Swedes kill you.” We make no noise. But Swedes do not like our container. Swedes have dog.’ He reflects a while. ‘”What is your name, please?” What papers, please? You are from prison? What crimes, please? You escape from prison? How, please?”‘ Doctors are efficient. I admire these doctors. They let us sleep. But God willing I must escape. To escape to Sweden is no chance. There is NATO wire. Many guards. But there is also toilet. From toilet is window. After window is gate to harbour. My friend can open this gate. My friend is from boat. I go back to boat. Boat takes me to Copenhagen. At last, I say, In Copenhagen was lorry for Hamburg. Sir, I love God. But the West I also love. In West I shall be free to worship Him.’

‘A lorry brought you to Hamburg?’

‘Was arranged.’

‘A Chechen lorry?’

‘My friend must first take me to road.’

‘Your friend from the crew? That friend? The same guy?’

‘No, sir, was different friend. To reach road was difficult. Before lorry, we must sleep one night in field.’ He looked up, and an expression of pure joy momentarily suffused his haggard features. ‘Was stars. God is merciful. Praise be to Him.’

Wrestling with the improbabilities of this story, humbled by its fervour yet infuriated as much by its omissions as his own incapacity to overcome them, Melik felt his frustration spread to his arms and fists . . .

‘Where did it drop you off then, this magic lorry that showed up out of nowhere? Where did it drop you?’

But Issa was no longer listening . . .

pp 11-13


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