BBC Homepage World Service Sport Education My BBC BBC News
Front Page | World | In depth | Destination UK
The Journey:
- A smuggler's story
- Clickable guide:
Refugee journeys
- Journey from Liberia
- Points of view
- Talking point:
Should the west open
the gates
Life in a foreign land
The way ahead
World Service radio series
Marlboro Thomas tells his story
The Journey: Journey from Liberia
For many the journey is fraught with dangers
Journey from Liberia

Each year some 300,000 refugees take extreme risks to enter Europe illegally. The EU is trying to clamp down on human smuggling and so-called "trafficking in aliens". But for some it provides an essential means of escape.

Marlboro Thomas was a university graduate with a good job, and his whole life ahead of him, when civil war broke out in Liberia.

"The civil war started in 1989. We were living in Monrovia with my parents. There was chaos, people were dying, and everyone was running for their lives," he said.

He first fled to Ivory Coast by foot, and then made his way to Lebanon.

"By then I knew that my mother and my brother were dead."

"There were so many things that happened that I could never forget. I never wanted to go back."

Marlboro Thomas's journey
In Lebanon he walked for three days across the mountains to Syria, where he met up with some smugglers.

He agreed to pay them $5,000 to take him to Germany.

The cross-border smuggling of humans has now become a growth industry, generating huge profits for traffickers and organised crime syndicates.

But Mr Thomas knew little about the people who drove him and three other Africans to Europe with false papers.

"I didn't know anything. I didn't know where we were. I was just praying and hoping that I'd get to Germany."


He never did arrive in Germany. Instead, the smugglers abandoned their passengers unceremoniously in Slovakia.

By the time they realised they were not in Germany, the smugglers had disappeared - along with their passports.

"I'd never even heard of Slovakia in my life," Mr Thomas said.

However, he takes a philosophical attitude to his experience of smuggling, which he likens to a business deal.

"They took my money, but I got to the promised land," he said.

"I was lucky. Others, they take their money, but they don't go anywhere."

They've lost their parents, their family and everything. They are in an unknown land, and are turned down again.

Mr Thomas says many refugees who are smuggled into the EU have their asylum application turned down. This, he says, is a terrible blow for genuine refugees.

"They've lost their parents, their family and everything. They are in an unknown land, and are turned down again.

"It is very difficult. How do they expect us to cope? "

The distinction between genuine refugees and other migrants is often blurred, a matter made more confusing by Europe's many different asylum policies.

EU's catch 22

Mr Thomas is a case in point. In Slovakia, he had no difficulties in obtaining refugee status. But his salary of $200 a month, he says, was not enough to live on.

In an attempt to fund a return trip to Africa, he has now moved again this time to an EU country.

But because he had already been given asylum in Slovakia, he was forced to enter as an illegal immigrant. He found a job washing dishes a much more lowly occupation than he had in Slovakia.

He says if he were given freedom of movement in Western Europe, he could be more usefully employed.

But for now, despite the mayhem he fled, he has been forced into an underground world. If he were caught, he could be detained and possibly imprisoned.

Marlboro Thomas's name has been changed to protect his identity

^^ Back to Top