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Watching refugees on the Tunisian coastline getting ready to make the dangerous journey to Europe

Former General of the Counter Terrorism Unit, Hamza Leso was not dead, but was walking contentedly along the Zuwara beachfront in the brilliant winter morning sunshine, Zuwara being the town at the heart of the Libyan people-smuggling trade into Europe. In the past ten minutes alone, he’d passed five washed up bodies on the shorelines, the corpses bloated beyond recognition. Hamza couldn’t tell if they were African, Arab or Asian, such was the state of decay. The grotesque visage and smell didn’t deter the crabs though, which couldn’t believe their luck in finding such bounty; Hamza looked away in disgust.

Walking on, Hamza saw a group of young men chatting animatedly and whom he guessed were just eighteen or nineteen years of age. Approaching, he heard their voices and realized they were Afronians, or more specifically, his kith and kin — Wahilis.

‘We were sailing,’ the oldest-looking boy of the group spoke, ‘but within minutes of leaving the calm water of the port, the boat sank. Everyone on board drowned, except three or four who were lucky enough to have life vests, myself included. I have no money for another trip and so will stay here until I can raise money for a fishing boat. I dare not go to sea again in a dinghy, especially now that it’s winter and the sea is much rougher — it would be suicide!’ The other boys in the group nodded their heads, knowing their friend had articulated the truth.

‘Next time, I will go via Egypt and Palestine. I will get to Europe through Turkey and Greece,’ suggested the tallest of the group and who sported a patchy beard. Hamza decided not to stop and talk to his countrymen, though he did take into account what the young men had said about the dangers of travelling on a dinghy versus that of a fishing boat. He put this titbit of information, along with all the others he had collected over the last three months, to the back of his mind.

Walking further along the beach to the jetty where the people smugglers plied their trade in human cargo, Hamza stopped for a Coke. Relaxing at a café, he smelt the ever-present sweet tobacco aroma that drifted by. It reminded him so much of the Officer’s Mess that until recently had been such a key part of his life. Though he had no children of his own, he especially enjoyed the family days and hearing the joyful squeals of children playing in water. He had always regretted never marrying or having children. Maybe with Sheila Solomon? Hamza, only half joked as he remembered some of the more intimate meetings he’d shared with the President’s youngest daughter during the nine months he’d plotted the Lesotho Street attack with her father. Nothing sexual had happened between them, though there had been a great deal of flirting.

Hamza smiled at the memories, as he was brought back to the present when overhearing someone at the adjoining table, say, ‘It doesn’t take much to get started, just $30,000 to buy a small fishing boat. They were cheaper last year, but now demand is outstripping supply. But even at that price, you’ll still make your money back and then a handsome profit after a few trips. This business won’t ever be stopped by the Europeans, there’s just too much easy money to be made by refugees who are willing to risk it all,’ the smuggler chuckled.

Finishing his Coke, Hamza continued walking down the beach and saw three smugglers using a hand pump to inflate a twenty-five-foot black dinghy before hoisting an outboard motor to its rear. A smuggler asked the assembled crowd of refugees, ‘Does anyone know how to steer?’

Seeing no one volunteer, a young refugee put their hand up, ‘I do,’ he lied knowing this was an opportunity for a free seat whatever the risks might be.

The people smuggler nodded his head, held the youth by the shoulder and pointed towards the horizon. ‘Go in that direction until you reach land,’ he simply said, while plucking the last cigarette out of the crumpled packet.

Once all the refugees were aboard the inflatable, the smuggler looked over the desperate, cramped, fear-stricken faces, as he felt the initial hit of the nicotine entering his lungs; for once he felt a smidgen of sympathy. ‘Switch off your phones or the coast guard will pick up your transmission signal,’ he advised, and which was something he would not normally bother to do, as if the coast guard did indeed stop the dinghy, they would inevitably sell the dinghy on the black market and which would bring the cost of dinghies down and further increase his already extraordinary profit margin.

Taking the newly-appointed captain of the dinghy to one side, Hamza saw the smuggler give the volunteer a penknife. ‘Destroy the dinghy when you get to land. If you arrive and your dinghy is still in good condition, the Italian coast guards will fill your motor with petrol and turn you back out to sea.’

If you like this extract from Escape from Afronia — fill in the form on my website and I will send you a Kindle or ebook.

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Chris Statham

Chris Statham

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Entrepreneur, student, pie eater, father, novelist, traveler, poet wannabe, pub visitor, husband, rugby enthusiast and part-time wizard.