Dignity in Death

Rarely do Africans seeking to sneak into Europe receive respect, or even a dignified departure home, if caught. But two teenage stowaways from Guinea hoping to enter Belgium recently got a ceremonial return home. Unfortunately, they were dead.

Stephen Bates reports in the liberal daily Guardian of London that Fodd Tounkara, 15, and Yaguine Koita, 14, hid in the landing gear of an air-bus run by Sabena Airlines, the Belgian state carrier. By the time they were discovered by a mechanic, perhaps a week after they apparently died from exposure, the two young men probably had made several round trips between Africa and Europe.

"But what has really shaken a Belgium still uncomfortable with its African colonial legacy ... has been the discovery of a moving note on one of the bodies, pleading for European help, especially to improve education for the suffering young people of Africa," Bates says. It read, in part: "If you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and lost our lives, it is because we suffer too much."

"Had the boys arrived alive in Brussels," Bates writes, "they would almost certainly have been hustled straight into a detention center pending deportation." And as one Belgian columnist noted, the letter would have been read once by an immigration officer or cop and tossed into the trash. But in death, Tounkara and Koita's message, addressed to the "excellencies and leaders of Europe," has reached those for whom it was written, reports Agence France-Presse of Paris. Louis Michel, Belgium's vice prime minister, promised to distribute it to all his European colleagues. "We cannot leave this cry ... without a response," he said. "We must return hope to Africa."