Mon, Mar 05, 2018 - Page 10 News List

African ‘lions’ dream of glory in Libya camp


Cameroonian (orange) and Senegalese (yellow) migrants compete in a soccer match at a Libyan illegal immigration shelter in Tajoura on Feb. 28.

Photo: AFP

The Tajoura migrant camp on the edge of Tripoli was the scene of a clash between lions: teams of Cameroonian and Senegalese soccer players whose dream is to play in Europe.

The Indomitable Lions and the Lions of Teranga took their names from those of their national teams, but the match had little of the atmosphere of African sports events. Played on a sandy pitch marked out by a low white wall in front of a prison building, its only spectators were two prison guards.

The teams had been thrown together, their players selected from among 500 inmates who have languished in detention for months. The luckiest players had shoes, but others tread the makeshift stadium in their socks.

Flourescent yellow bibs for Senegal, orange for Cameroon, the migrants took the game deadly seriously. After the warm-up, they saluted their two spectators.

After a few minutes of sprinting, dribbling and crunching tackles, sweat began to appear on the players’ foreheads. Short of breath, one Senegalese player threw in the towel and sat at the foot of the wall.

“I can’t take it any more. I haven’t had any physically activity for months, we don’t move in prison,” he said.

“Plus, we’re amateurs,” he added. “The Cameroonians are real players who played for teams.”

The match continued without him, and the score left no doubt: the Cameroonians won 4-0.

Mamadou Awal, 21, said he was proud of the victory.

A midfielder like his idol, former French superstar and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, Awal left Cameroon at 17 in a bid to reach Europe and become a professional player after a few years in a training center in his nation.

He decided to “go on an adventure,” he said, adding that he was confident in his talent, “but destiny decided otherwise.”

After boarding a boat headed for Europe, he was arrested at sea.

“In Libya, I suffered a lot — it’s my third time in prison,” he said.

European glory is also the dream of his teammate, Takoute Styve, who quit his studies “to devote myself to football.”

“When I saw [Cameroonian stars] Roger Milla and Samuel Eto’o, I wanted to become like them,” he said.

According to the UN, up to 1 million migrants are in Libya, tens of thousands of them detained in inhumane conditions.

After playing for two second-division teams in Cameroon and attending two training centers, Ukamou Lobu left his hometown at 16 to attempt the crossing to Europe.

“I tried to leave Algeria and then Morocco, but I did not succeed,” he said.

He dreams of playing for Arsenal, but 22-year-old Seryne Diokhane said he has “nothing to do with football.”

“It’s just an opportunity for me to get out of jail for a while,” he said. “When they asked who can play, I answered ‘me’ right away.”

He was interrupted by a camp official, Faraj al-Guilouchi, who asked the migrants to return to their cells.

“We organize matches every week to try to alleviate their suffering,” Guilouchi said. “Most of them have suffered psychological shocks, either because they have tried and failed [sea] crossings or because they have lost loved ones.”

He said the camp would soon try to organize a tournament among various African nations.

“No thanks, all we want is to leave this place,” a migrant said in a low voice, as the metal door of the prison closed behind him.

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