Before taking the dangerous sea journey to Europe, tens of thousands of migrants face several life-threatening situations on land. And Libya has become the most treacherous transit route.
SAR ZONE, Libya/Italy — On November 4, the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms (POA) rescued 378 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, 32 kilometres off the Libyan coast. Since the beginning of the year, nearly 3,000 people have drowned in the sea.
One in every 54 migrants dies along the sea route, according to the UNHCR, and yet tens of thousands of people from African countries and Syria are risking their lives for a better future in Europe.
Many migrants who pass through Libya are either detained by the Libyan security forces or kidnapped by local gangs, who later sell them to human trafficking rings. Some lucky ones manage to escape and attempt boat crossings to Europe. Quite often, rough weather conditions push them towards death, but there are instances when international aid organisations come to their rescue.
A Spanish photojournalist Samuel Nacar, was recently embedded with POA during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea and chronicled some moving testimonies of the survivors.
1. “My is name Essah Sanneh. I am from the Gambia. I am 15 years old. I started my journey to Europe about three and a half years ago. I passed through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and reached Niger. I then walked through Sahara desert and entered Libya. Passing through Sahara was really difficult. You see your countrymen and other travellers lying dead in the sand, their bodies rotting. You see a lot of dead bodies around."
"Since then I am stuck in Libya. It's hard to survive here. There are countless checkpoints and soldiers. They are very dangerous. They will snatch your money and whatever valuable things you have. And if you don’t pay them, they put you in jail."
"Guns are very popular in Libya. Almost every civilian here carries a gun. If they take you as a labourer, they will exploit you, pay you $7 (5 or 10 dinars). You cannot talk back. Many Libyans, even young or underage, have built private prisons. They see money in black people. They kidnap you and demand ransoms between $2,198-$3,663 (3,000- 5,000 dinars). For a person like me, whose parents are poor, you cannot negotiate your release.”
2. “My name is Mohammed Bakheet and I am 18 years old. I am from Sudan, but I have been living in Libya for about two years. I want to go to Italy. It is my dream. I want to study there."
"The Libyan security forces detained me in Sabratha district. They sent me to a prison in Zawia."
"I somehow survived the jail time. It was too difficult. They would barely give us food or water. We survived long spells of hunger that sometimes lasted for weeks."
"I don’t know what more to say. I just hope that all the people making their way to Europe do not pass through Libya."
3. “My name is Ahmed Almefalany. I am a Syrian refugee. War drove me and my family out of Syria. I went to Tripoli but trouble followed me there. A deadly conflict started there as well, so I moved to another city called Zawiya. Survival in Zawiya turned out to be extremely difficult. Gunfights, rocket shooting, are rampant in Zawiya. So I ran away, but this time I was on my way to Europe."
"I chose Europe for peace. Soon my family and I came to the Libyan shore to take the boat journey, the smugglers separated us. I lost touch with my wife and two kids for three days."
Note: Ahmed and his family have made it to Germany.
4. “My Name is Riham. I am 30 years old. Though I am a Libyan citizen, I wanted to leave that country. There is no safety in Libya. A Libyan armed group killed my husband four months ago. His fault was that he was a Palestinian. I am going to Europe now. I don't feel safe in my country."
5. “My name is Ahmed Adam Ishah. I am 18. I spent two months in Libya and now I am going to Europe. I am from Sudan. I chose Europe as my final destination because I believe there's some value to life there. Life is too unfair in Sudan and there is no human rights in Libya either."
6. “My name is Sanna Bajie. I am 18 years old and I come from the Gambia. I left home in 2014. Since then, I am on the road. When I arrived in Libya, I was imprisoned for eight months. They would hit us with rifle butts. The place was full of bugs. They gave us dirty water. It stank, but we still drank it. They gave us food only once in a day. Every day they would hit us, electrocute us with cables. They would hit us without any reason. It was fun for them."
"Every day people died in the prison. The prison guards come to the cells and check our eyes to see if we were sick. And if they noticed someone as sick, they threw him in the desert."
"One day a Libyan military officer named Osama told us that we all will be deported to our countries. He put us on buses, but instead of deporting us, they drove us to Sabha, where they sold us to some unknown group. In Sabah, we spent two more months in prison in a neighbourhood named Kataba Asarat."
"I had to pay to get myself out. I thought about turning back to the Gambia, but I didn’t. That’s why I am on my way to Europe."
"It's been two years since I have spoken to my family. They don’t know where I am, what I am going through."
7. “My name is Adam Essa Muhbate. I am 20 years old. I am from Sudan. I spent eight months in three different Libyan prisons. Inside, I was beaten every single day. I survived on breadcrumbs and two or three spoons of macaroni. That was our only meal in 24 hours. "
8. “My name is Osman Mohammad. I am 33 years old and I am from Sudan. In Libya, we were undressed and electrocuted. One of my friends was killed in the prison. "
"I had left Sudan for many reasons. I was a member of a rebel group. The Sudanese government imprisoned me. I was tortured for a long time and then let go."