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IN FOCUS akzente 4/15 17 earned enough to make the journey to Europe himself. But for now, he wants to stay in Agadez. So is Abubakar Demba a refugee or a people smug- gler? In this desert city, the distinctions become blurred. ‘I have a good relationship with the people I help,’ he says. ‘And they recommend me to others.’ He is still in contact via Facebook with some of the people who have reached Italy with his help. According to the Interna- tional Organization for Migration (IOM), around 90 per cent of the West African refugees and migrants who want to reach Europe pass through Agadez. They are all fleeing from poverty, war or a repressive state. Gambia’s dictator Yahya Jammeh – in power since a military coup in 1994 – has threatened to ‘cut off the head’ of any gay person found in his country. Opposition mem- bers or people thought to be opposed to Jammeh are routinely imprisoned and tortured. ‘There is no future in Gambia,’ says Demba, ‘and the police treated me like dirt.’ Gambia has acquired a degree of notoriety because so many of its people are leaving this downtrodden coun- try and heading north – for Europe. But compared with what’s happening elsewhere in the world, refugee flows to Europe have always been noticeably smaller. A bubakar Demba is standing outside a branch of cash transfer company Western Union in Agadez. He’s waiting to pick up his money. The 29-year-old with the short dreadlocks has been living here in Niger on the edge of the Sahara for the last 10 months. The young Gambian’s original plan was to travel straight to Libya, crossing Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, but he ran out of cash on the journey. Now he is working as a translator and middleman in order to earn his fare. ‘I have two cli- ents from Ghana and Gambia today,’ he says. In Agadez, he joined forces with a local pickup driver and encourages refugees to use their services. Once a week, he escorts his customers to Murzuq in Libya. ‘I translate for the refugees and make all the arrangements,’ says Demba. He earns 500 Libyan dinars – around EUR 330 – per trip. After five or 10 trips, he would have Unwavering desire for a new life Global refugee numbers are at their highest level since the Second World War. People are fleeing from conflict, violence, hunger and poverty. Most of them stay close to home, at least at first. Text Jochen STAHNKE An anxious backward glance, then full speed ahead: the refugees who make the journey by car or truck are the lucky ones. Many others have nothing but their own two feet. » PHotoS:GettyImages/ROBERTOSCHMIDT(Page14/15),REUTERS/STRINGER(PAGE16) akzente 4/1517