Geo Rotation 9 – Voices from the sea 

Testimonies of survivors 

Ιn Libya I was a dead man walking 

Abdoulie, 27, is from Gambia. He was rescued by Geo Barents staff during a critical operation on March 29, 2022 in the Central Mediterranean. 

“I decided to leave Gambia and try to find a better future for myself almost eight years ago. I tried my luck in many countries. I first arrived in Senegal, then I travelled to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

I worked and saved some money to try to cross the desert. I arrived at the border with Libya. When I reached Libya, the smuggler accused me of not paying him, though I had paid him. So, they took us to the prison [detention centre]. There, if you don’t have money to pay, they beat you and leave you without food for almost two days.

If you have money, they may sell you a pack of toast bread for five Libyan dinars [one euro]. The water we drank was always dirty and not enough for everyone so often we had to drink the water from the toilet.  
Abdoulie, 27, is from Gambia, rescued by Geo Barents staff

Before they give you food, they beat you very badly. 

One of the people I was friends with in the jail was beaten to death. This man was from Ivory Coast and he couldn’t afford to pay. He was beaten so much that he lost almost all his teeth.

Pay or die

His belly was swollen after the beating and he was vomiting everything he was eating. I was trying to smash some boiled potatoes and feed him but he was just vomiting it. His legs were completely broken and he couldn’t even go to the toilet. One day he just died. I was there when he died. 

In these jails, either you pay or you die. They torture you until you pay them. I saw people getting tortured and electrocuted. Sometimes if they understand that you will never pay, they just break your arms and legs and they leave you somewhere in the city alone. If you try to escape from the jail, they just shoot you. 

I saw more than 10 people getting killed. Everyone is undocumented there because when we enter the jail, anyone who even has documents, sees them being taken and ripped up. So, when someone dies, they just throw their body in the desert. 

Women in the jail were telling us that they were getting kidnapped and ganged raped. They were also forced into prostitution. 

After I managed to get out of jail, I felt that I was a dead man walking. I felt that I was surrounded by enemies. I was in a foreign country where I had no one. They would throw stones at me or spit on my face in the street and I could do nothing. 
Abdoulie, 27, is from Gambia, rescued by Geo Barents staff

In the end I spent seven years in Libya. I have seen so much. 

After my time in jail, I tried to find a job. I was working in construction and I was making about 40 Libyan dinars [7.80 euros] per day. I was renting a house with other people and with these funds I also had to save for food and money in order to cross to Europe. It was almost impossible to save enough and that’s why it took me so long to cross. 

The first time [I attempted the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea] we were stopped by the Libyan coast guards. They started to insult us, calling us donkeys and they asked us to move to their boat. We had to follow their commands because we knew that if we didn’t, they would shoot us. They shot on other boats in the past. 

They put us in prison again

Once we were intercepted, they put us in prison again. They took all our money, phones and all our belongings. They started to ask again for money but I had spent all my money on the crossing and I had no way of communicating with my family to ask them to help me. And even if I could communicate, I am almost sure that they couldn’t afford to send me money so I only had God by then. He would be the only one who could help me. 

In the second attempt to cross we were more than 11 hours in the sea. I wasn’t afraid to die. I prefer to die in the sea than going back to Gambia empty-handed. I left Gambia empty-handed and I don’t want to go back like this.  
Abdoulie, 27, is from Gambia, rescued by Geo Barents staff

It took me seven years to achieve my goal of going to Europe, I didn’t see my family for seven years so I wanted to continue fighting for my life. I am very proud of myself for what I achieved given all the difficulties I had. 

I have been thinking about the day that I will be in Europe since I was 19. 

Back then I was only thinking about my dream to continue my education but now my main goal is to be able to see my parents again before they die. We spent seven years apart and they told me that they don’t care whether I have money or not, they want to see me before they die and I want to make them feel proud about their son.” 

In Libyan jail they gang raped my girlfriend before my eyes 

John (name changed for privacy), 30, is from Nigeria. He was rescued by the MSF search and rescue team on March 29, 2022, along with 112 other people in the Central Mediterranean. 

I left Nigeria two years ago. We were lucky during the trip because to cross from Nigeria to Libya is very dangerous. There are many armed groups on the way that can rob you or even kill you. Thankfully we managed to cross without running into them. 
John (name changed for privacy), 30, is from Nigeria.

Once we arrived in Libya, I started to work in constructions and my girlfriend as a cleaner. I used to work about 9 hours per day and I was getting 50 Libyan dinars [9,8 euros] per day. We managed to save up some money and tried to cross the sea.

When we were in the sea the Libyan coast guards stopped us after two hours. They took us to Sama prison and then sold all of us to Sufada prison, which is run by terrorists. They forced men to go and work in constructions every day and they would keep our salaries and raped the women.  

Four Libyan men took my girlfriend to a separate room and asked her to have sex with them but she refused and said she was married. They asked her who her husband was and she said my name. They identified me, took me at the same room and started to beat me.

Every time she would refuse to have sex with them, they would beat me. At some point, they put a gun to my head and they told her that if she refused again, they would shoot me. I was so afraid so I was begging her to accept. We had no other choice.
John (name changed for privacy), 30, is from Nigeria.

Finally, the four men raped her before my eyes. From what I heard, they kept doing it multiple times. Unless we paid them, they wouldn’t stop. I called a childhood friend who is in Germany and asked him to send me some money so we can pay the Libyans and get out [of the prison].  

Once we were out, we tried again to cross the Mediterranean but we were intercepted [by the Libyan Coastguard]. They were more aggressive this time. They kept asking us who the captain was, meaning who was driving the boat. We refused to say who was driving and they started kicking us.  

Then they took us to prison again and we paid again to buy our freedom.  
John (name changed for privacy), 30, is from Nigeria.

The third time I tried to cross there was no space in the boat for my girlfriend, so she stayed behind. Since then, I have lost contact with her because none of us have a phone. I am very worried about her.  

When I was in the boat for the third time and it started filling with water, I thought I would die. I fell into the water. We had no life jackets because the smuggler was charging us 200 Libyan Dinars [39 euros] for it.

So at some point I asked God to forgive me for anything bad I might have done. In the end, we were so lucky that MSF came to rescue us. I remember that it was a Sudanese guy from our boat who actually dragged me out of the water.  
John (name changed for privacy), 30, is from Nigeria.

I never imagined that the whole journey [from Nigeria] would be that dangerous. When I was in Libya and witnessed the situation there, I knew that I might die there.” 

Living in constant fear of being kidnaped, tortured or raped 

Tino (name changed for privacy), 18, fled Nigeria and then Libya. She was rescued by the Geo Barents on March 29, 2022, along with 112 other people in the Central Mediterranean. 

In Nigeria I had nothing. My mum died when I was 10 and my dad abandoned us. We grew up with our grandmother but now she is old so I have to provide for her. I had no future in Nigeria and friends suggested I go to Libya to work.  
Tino (name changed for privacy), 18, fled Nigeria and then Libya.

I left Nigeria when I was 17. 

The journey is very difficult. They put about 50 of us in the back of a pick-up truck for two to three weeks, without water and food. We used to stop on the way to sleep on the roadside and we used the empty jerry cans used for the car fuel to drink water.

Without water and food

People died while crossing the desert due to lack of water in the summer and in the winter some people die in their sleep because of the cold. I saw people dying from the cold.  
Tino (name changed for privacy), 18, fled Nigeria and then Libya.

When we arrived in Libya, I lived in an abandoned building along with other Africans. We had to pay around 400 Libyan Dinars [100 euros] per month for this building. I started working as a maid with a Libyan family; I was taking care of the house and the children. It was an extended family of about 20 people and it was very stressful for me. They didn’t behave in a nice way to me and they didn’t give me the money I was promised.  

I couldn’t do much because if you are a black woman in Libya and you complain about such things, they take you to the police and you will end up in a jail.  
Tino (name changed for privacy), 18, fled Nigeria and then Libya.

Then I started working as a cleaner in different houses. It was better for me as I could be more independent and the money I was making was better.  

One day a group of Libyan men stormed into our accommodation and they tried to rape us [the women]. One of them had a saw and tried to hit us with it. I fought to not be raped and he hit me with the saw. I have a big scar on my skull. I couldn’t even go to the hospital because I have no documents and they don’t accept undocumented people in the hospitals.  

Living in constant fear

As a black woman you can’t do anything in Libya. You live in constant fear. You can’t walk anywhere during the day because someone could kidnap you, torture you, rape you and force you into prostitution. I know a lot of women who have been tortured and raped in the jails. After they escaped, they came and stayed with us.  

I want to go to Europe and study English literature. I like reading. I haven’t talked to my grandmother since I left because I didn’t want her to be upset. I will speak to her only when I arrive in Europe so she can be happy about me.”