Some manage to live a decent life in Europe, but many African immigrants become disillusioned. Jean N, called Jeannot by friends, is an illegal Cameroonian who has been living in Europe for 15 years. Before settling in Belgium nine years ago, he had tried his luck in Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
By Anne-Mireille Nzouankeu, Brussels
“I have not been able to have a regular life. Without papers, I have not been able to find a real job or housing.” Jeannot decided to immigrate because he thought life was better in Europe. The reality proved him wrong. « When I arrived in Belgium, I spent three years living in the streets because relatives, and people that I took for friends, refused to accommodate me. They did not want any extra burden, » he complains.
In order to earn a living, Jeannot became a « tacleur « (tackler), a Cameroonian term that refers to a kind of illegal broker. He works on Heyvaert Street in Brussels, an avenue dedicated to the sale of used cars for export to Africa. Filled with mostly Lebanese-owned garages, the neighbourhood is a meeting place for illegal Africans. All day long, they stand in small groups chatting while waiting for potential customers. They are here to « struggle » – to make money by any means possible.
The work of a tacleur involves intercepting potential car buyers, guiding them through the garages and helping them with their shopping. In return, the tacleur receives a double commission from both the customer and the car dealer. There is no fixed tariff; all depends on the person and the mood of the customer. “Incomes are very unstable. Some days I make nothing and on others up to five hundred euros. Sometimes I can earn between three and six thousand euros per month, » reveals Jeannot.
This non-controlled income is almost entirely reinvested in Cameroon. « I pay the university tuition fees for my three little brothers. I build a house for my parents and a four-apartment rental building, » says Jeannot. He’s also sent several second-hand cars back to Cameroon. He intends to return there one day “but only when I have enough investments there to live comfortably.”
According to a recent report from the International Organisation for Migration, « in 2010, 30 million Africans living abroad have sent home over 30 billion US euros, or 2.6% of Africa’s GDP. »
Back home is blocked
“After buying a used car, we usually take off all the headlights and mirrors since they are usually get stolen on the ships carrying them to Africa,” says Rodrigue, a “chipauteurs”(quibblers), who are assigned to do such work. They earn less than tacleurs.
Rodrigue has been living in Belgium for five years and says he’s disillusioned. He changed his name so he could get his visa and this had other consequences. « In Cameroon, I had a higher diploma as an electrician. So even if I do become legal, I won’t be able to use it because it’s under another name. »
He lives in an abandoned house with other undocumented immigrants. Yet he does not want to return to his homeland. « I have some advantages here that I would not have in Cameroon. Unemployment is higher in Cameroon. Here one can work illegally and still make a living. Back home, everything is blocked. »
The 29-year-old has advice for potential migrants: « If you have a job in Cameroon, don’t abandon it to come here. Europe is not a paradise. But at the same time, for us already here, it would be too difficult for us to return to the everyday life there. It would be too hard to re-adapt to the problems of Africa: corruption, favouritism, administrative bottlenecks, lack of civic responsibility, failure of social services and the poor treatment of hospital patients. »
Rodrigue prefers living in fear of being sent back to Cameroon, than going back to Cameroon.
Published on : 28 February 2012 – 2:32pm | By RNW Africa Desk