« There is no future in my country (…) and violence reigns across the region », he tells Nawaat, alluding to the armed conflicts in Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Lamin arrived in Tunisia by land in 2019: « I crossed Guinea, Mali and Algeria before arriving in Tunisia ». He notes that « It was less dangerous then ». The young Subsaharan says that he has never attempted to cross over to Europe and imagines rebuilding his life in Tunisia.
Nawaat met Lamin in Tunis, just outside the Terre d’Asile office where he was waiting for a friend. Showing a warm smile, the young man agreed to share his rather uncommon story.
Upon setting foot in Tunisia, reports Lamin, he obtained his asylum seeker card with little trouble. However, his stay in shelters run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did not last long. According to the young man, he immediately began looking for work. It was with much persistence that he was able to string together one poorly-paid job after another and thus cover the cost of rent, 250 dinars every month. Instead of living in a community, he chose to share a place with two friends. From the outset, Lamin preferred to keep a distance with other asylum seekers and refugees, in order to « stay focused on his objectives ». Once upon a time in Sierra Leone, Lamin led an entirely different life, drinking and getting into fights. In spite of its diamond-encrusted mines, Sierra Leone has a tumultuous history and is one of the poorest countries on the continent.
But everything changed once Lamin decided to come to Tunisia. In order to stay out of trouble, he decided to avoid keeping in with « bad company ». According to the 24-year-old, « This was the only way for me ».
After two years working in under-paid jobs, Lamin met a decent employer who guaranteed him a minimum wage salary. For the past year, he has lived alone in a little apartment that his employer rents. The place is not far from from his job in a restaurant-bar where he works as head of security, Lamin tells us with visible pride.
The young man says that he is unfazed by his situation, far from perfect since he is without a legal contract. Nevertheless, he continues to work as he looks forward to better days and the possibility of starting his own company. Lamine is not discouraged by the fact that, under Tunisian law, he is restricted from obtaining a work permit and legal support in case of litigation. In this context, he faces a tremendous challenge to becoming his own boss and starting a business.
Does Lamin harbor any regrets? « I haven’t seen my family since I left », the Sierra Leonean remarks as he shows us photos of his sister and nephews on Facebook. « But I talk to them all the time on social media », he adds. For now, he is unable to offer them any form of financial support. Lamin earns just enough to feed himself and keep a roof over his head. « One day, I will have a comfortable life, and I will be able to help them. In the meantime, they must be patient », he tells us. Still, the young man confides to Nawaat, he manages to set aside a small amount for his plans. Ambitious and unfazed in the midst of adversity, Lamin dreams of a stable life in Tunisia—even if political changes do not necessarily align with his aspired trajectory.
Good luck to this young man. Many subsaharan migrants in Tunisia work harder than local people and economically they’re closing the gaps of labour shortage in the job market. The government should facilitate the immigration process for them to be able to settle and contribute to the growth of the economy. The current codes are inhumane and we can’t unlock growth economically without having immigrants, a lesson from every advanced economy.
Lamin you are a strong young man, the lesson i learn is to be always be strong and have faith in the day or days ahead of life.
Am a Sierra Leonean,
I love your story.