It’s Monday today. And like every school Monday, I got up, took a shower, had breakfast, packed my things and set off. In this city, my life is an endless to-ing and fro-ing between subways and stations. As I sit on the train, I idly gaze at the passengers trying to disembark as soon as the doors open to avoid the crush of the new passengers impatiently trying to get in, intent on being the first to reach that seat they have earmarked for themselves from outside the train. Dethatched from those silent, epic, fleeting hand-to-hand battles at the station and the occasional musician boarding the train to entertain the passengers in exchange for some spare change, or a missionary shouting out his evangelical message in the hope of earning his place in heaven, I am lost in my thoughts because I don’t usually listen to music on the train or stick my head in a book. I remember a story I read recently and just can’t get out of my mind.
It’s the story of two young people who, until recently, were university students like me. Two inseparable friends about to embark on the most important journey of their lives. They want to find the job of their dreams, with better pay, more status, and a brighter future than they would have if they stayed in their country; that’s how things are these days. One is 24 years old, has just graduated in Sports Sciences and has achieved some fame and won a few important medals in martial arts, but there is not much funding for the sport in his country, so he prefers to work, compete, and seek new horizons elsewhere. The other is 25 years old, very driven, and has just graduated as an engineer. After making a few calculations, they’ve worked hard and saved whatever they can for their adventure.
Both friends are so excited. They know only too well how much they are going to miss their families, their friends and their people on this trip they have been preparing for so long, and they know it is going to change their lives and improve that of their families, who have sacrificed everything to make sure their children can study at a good university. They know what it is like not to see their mother, their father, their sisters or their partners for a long time, because they lived together in the university’s hall of residence while they got their degree in a country thousands of kilometres away. They have been there for months. But they just have one more giant step to take on a path that takes them further and further away from their home.
After thousands of kilometres, several stops, various means of transport, and some problems with logistics and language, they are almost there. All their efforts are finally going to pay off! They’re exhausted and can’t wait to arrive, rest, and call home to say they’re okay, because they know everyone will be worried. Their young hearts are beating anxiously. The last leg of the journey is a short 10-minute trip in a small boat, and peering through the darkness they can already see the jetty on the beach. Their excitement overcomes their tiredness. They start getting their belongings ready for landing, but… something is not going according to plan.
The sea is very rough. The skipper of the boat has become violent; he tells them he can’t land. Why not? They’re almost there! Their enthusiasm and tiredness turns into worry and anger. The skipper gives them no choice and pushes towards the edge of the boat. The boys are very scared, and can’t believe what’s happening. Although it’s crazy, they look at each other, trust in their luck and their strength, and jump into the water together with their things. They’ve overcome so many obstacles to get here, this is not going to stop them; besides, they’ll tell the story of this incredible adventure for the rest of the lives
It’s a cold, dark night, but they are very close to shore. It’s very difficult to swim with their trousers and boots on. The water is freezing cold and full of rocks. The waves are getting stronger… one of the two friends disappears under the dark, violent swell. The other, disoriented, swims with all his strength, managing somehow or other to avoid the rocks. Almost out of breath and dazed after looking in vain for his inseparable friend, his feet finally touch solid ground. He looks for help. The police immediately launch a search and rescue operation.
That night shatters the hopes and dreams of a 24-year-old who was only looking for somewhere to live a happy life, and leaves the memory of that terrible dawn branded in his friends mind forever. Two days later, they find the body at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast. From then on, videos of the event are posted on social media, and the story of the champion athlete who drowned a few meters from the beach goes viral. Both his government and the media describe the dead martial artist as a hero: “If he had had help when he was a young athlete, he would never have had to leave,” says the local press.
This is a true story. It also happened on a Monday; on 16 September 2019. Akram gazed sadly at the doors of the Temporary Stay and Assistance Centre (CETI) in Melilla, thinking about his friend Helal and how he would never see him again. The staff of the Centre treated him for shock while he told them everything that had happened to them. They were just looking for a better life. A peaceful life for themselves and their families, far from the daily struggle of waking up every day in Yemen in the midst of an illegal, unjustifiable war that affects people like them who never imagined having to go through something like this. Akram knows that he must move on without his friend and for his friend’s sake. This is a true story of people like you and me. Of people longing for a place where they can find shelter and a better life, who are prepared to do whatever it takes, overcome any obstacles, suffer lies, deceit and discrimination, to achieve their goal. Spain, the country of Akram’s dream, is still one of the largest suppliers of arms to the Saudi regime, which uses these weapons against Yemen in an atrocious and inhuman war that continues unchecked and uncensored.
After thousands of kilometres fleeing this mindless violence, a 30-metre stretch of water marked the difference between reaching a country where he hoped to begin a new life as an asylum seeker and losing his life. His was another life extinguished in the waters of a sea increasingly stained by innocent blood. 30 metres. Just 30 metres.