Tag Archives: Libya

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Buba remembers Libya: “Better to die than stay in Ziltan prison”

As soon as you enter Libya you realize at once that everything is just money, even the lives of Africans. If you have enough money to bribe the police they let you go through, otherwise they take you into a storehouse or a garage and beat you up. If you have someone who can send you money you have to hang on just long enough to receive the money transfer, but if there’s nobody who can help you, well, you just have to hope that they will get tired of torturing you before you die, and then at times they let you go.

Other times they transfer you to the prison at Zlitan and in that case perhaps it would be better to die. Everyone knows Zlitan in Libya, Zlitan means fear. Anybody who rebels or tries to get away is savagely punished. Sometimes they hang you up head down and beat you with rods, as if you were a sack, or you are strapped to a table and they whip the soles of your feet. At first it is only painful, but then if they go on too long you stop being human, your eyes glaze over and you forget that you are alive.

When I left Libya I didn’t shed a single tear. There were fifteen of us on that boat, there was a pregnant woman and a child. Then the sea became black, the boat overturned and everything we knew was of no use to us. The sea doesn’t understand things of the land, your clothes and shoes become heavy and pull you down. Only eight of us got to Lampedusa, and all naked. I never knew what the woman was called, and I never will.

I now live in Turin in the occupied ex-Ministry of the Interior houses. Italy is not like Libya, although even here the lives of Africans are not worth much.

In Italy they take your fingerprints and they give you a number. They call you a refugee, they give you a piece of paper and shut you up in a reception centre. Then the centre closes and you are out on the street – the project is finished – and you discover that “international protection” is just two words put together.

Buba is 30 and comes from Gambia. In March, 2013, he took part in Turin together with a hundred refugees like him in occupying the ex-MOI (ex-General Fruit and Vegetable Market) centre where he lives. He is at the moment going to secondary school and hopes to become an electrician.

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Sekou Camara

My name is Sekou and I’m 26 years old. I arrived in Italy by way of Lampedusa, but I don’t remember anything of the island, because when I got there I thought I was dead. Before everything started I was in Tripoli. I was working on a construction site when Gaddafi’s militiamen captured me. I didn’t know what they were going to do with me, if they wanted to force me to fight their war or lock me up in a prison. I didn’t ask any questions when they caught me: I was afraid of their rifles and maybe also of what they would say. I discovered that my prison was to be a fishing boat and the war waiting for me was the sea. My place was down below, in the hold, where you couldn’t breathe and the smell of fish was unbearable. We couldn’t even stay dry: we fought against the sea that poured in by throwing buckets of water out through a small porthole. We had been at sea for two days when the boat stopped. It was night. Around us there was just water and sky. “It’s the work of the devil,” someone whispered. As it passed from mouth to mouth, the devil from just a simple word became something real and terrible. We decided to collect everything we had, money, rings, bracelets, and gave it to the sea. Hoping the devil would be satisfied and let us continue on our journey. At the first light of dawn we started to move again. We hadn’t eaten and drunk anything for two days but we were full of hope because we knew we had almost arrived. But after another day and another night at sea we still hadn’t seen land. And we had almost run out of diesel. At that moment a thought crossed my mind: I was going to die. However much I tried to push the thought away, it kept returning. We were all going to die. This thought grew more and more inside me until in the end there was nothing else except this fear. My mouth can produce a lot of languages: I know French, English, Arabic, Wolhof, Pulaar, but I couldn’t pronounce a single word because there is not one that has any sense when you know that you are already dead. I don’t know how much time passed. Voices, people – they didn’t exist any longer, nor did the sea, the smell, my thirst, and the sight of land, of Europe, that didn’t appear. Maybe it was me that didn’t exist.

My heart stopped while they were saving us. “Heart failure,” the doctors said. The only memory I have of Lampedusa is the helicopter that took me away from the island. In Rome I spent two months in a hospital, without ever finding anything to say. There was not one word, a single word, in all the languages I know, that could give any sense to what I had been through.

Sekou Camara comes from Guinea. He arrived at Lampedusa in 2011. After a long period of rehabilitation in hospital he found accommodation in Rome, where he lived for a year working as a tyre repairer. He now lives in Turin and is looking for a job.

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Looking for a place for happiness

My name is Samuel and I hope that at least this is my place. First I was at  Yaoundé in Cameroon, I lived in a house on the first floor, in the market area. Down below I sold shirts, trousers, clothes of all sorts. The people in the market all knew me and I knew everyone. When the government decided to build a new trunk road we found that our houses and shops were all going to be demolished. So we decided to protest, all the tradespeople of the area, all together, to ask for another place to go at least. The government didn’t like that and I discovered in a few hours that I had become a political criminal.

I fled my country at night and made my way to Nigeria. God couldn’t have abandoned me. Perhaps he just wanted to tell me, I kept repeating to myself, that that wasn’t my place.

In Libya I decided to stop. No, I had never thought that it was the right place, but it had been on the move for months, I had crossed Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, I was exhausted and completely broke. I learned the trade of plasterer and did stucco work, I liked working as a decorator, I fell in love with a woman and we went and lived together. In Libya a foreigner can be almost happy, happy no. There was work, but there was nothing else for us, the Arabs call us Africans, as if they weren’t Arabs too. I didn’t care, all I was worried about was putting together a bit of money in order to go away and start again somewhere else. [twitter_share]You never know when it’s going to be the last day, in the morning you go out and when you return in the evening there is just a crater and rubble and dust.[/twitter_share]

They say it was a missile but who launched it and why I have never found out.

When the war broke out, even the Africans became the enemy: the rebels accused us of being Gaddafi’s militiamen, the royalists of fighting with the rebels. Anyone we encountered would have good reasons to kill us, so we escaped again, always at night. During the crossing I didn’t think of anything, all I kept repeating to myself was that Libya was not my place. From Tripoli to Lampedusa it was a quiet crossing, and after a night at sea, with the first light of day we landed on the island. I remember the Red Cross people and lots of people running up and down the jetty.

Italy is not what I imagined it to be, there’s no work and at times they look at you on the bus as if you were not welcome. But I think that perhaps this is my place, that there must be a sense to all this, that perhaps I am here for my brothers, for our rights. Perhaps I’m also here to tell my story, so that it isn’t forgotten.

Samuel P. arrived in Italy in 2011. When the North Africa emergency programme finished he found himself in the street again and without a home, despite the fact that he had regular refugee status. He and another hundred or so refugees in the city of Turin have occupied the EX MOI buildings where he lives at present.

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I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night’, and I left my brother behind.

It was the Italians that built my town, Elabaned, in Eritrea, where I was born 28 years ago. Just in case you’ve forgotten, we were your colony. I’m the first migrant in my family and I’m a marine biologist. I used to spend my days talking with fish, sectioning algae, studying the routes of the shoals of fish, analysing microorganisms in the sea. Day after day I would collect secrets from the waves as the wind played on them. But what there was beyond the sea was what I didn’t know yet, and what I didn’t ask. That was the last mystery to be revealed. To do that, there was no alternative.

I thought I knew the sea and I would observe it from above, from the land. I had to do it for my country when I did my military service, which starts when you are 18 and ends when you are in the grave. My wages were zero, sometimes less than zero. There was no alternative to that, either.

So I started walking. I was lucky because I knew in what direction to go. After 3 days of dust and sun, without stopping, I arrived in the Sudan.  My brother Samuel, who was a mechanic, lived there. Twenty-five years spent hoping. 1,600  dollars a head is the price of hope as far as Tripoli, Libya, and my brother and I made it there. Locked up in a house with another 500 Eritreans, surrounded by men with rifles, we waited. Yes, it was terrible. But I put up with it, because there was no other alternative.

There was the sea in the town, but I didn’t see it. I remained there for one month without even going out to look for it. All 500 of us left the house together: another $1,600, the cost of a second hope on board a fishing vessel. After hours spent in the sea, two boats appeared out of the night. One of them circled around us at a distance of twenty metres or so. And all 500 of us, in the black darkness of the night, started to smile through our clenched teeth. It was as if the darkness had already ended because we weren’t afraid any longer. We’re safe, we shouted. They’re going to come back and pick us up, I said to Samuel. I’ll be able to watch the sea again from the land, I thought. After more than an hour we realized that no one was going to come and save us.

One mile from the coast of Lampedusa we set fire to a blanket to attract attention. It was like lighting a candle in a tomb. A light in the middle of nothing. But there was no other alternative. [twitter_share]The blanket caught fire and we got scared. We all rushed to one side and the boat capsized. Those of us who were still alive began to swim. There’s no point crying water in water. [/twitter_share]

After swimming for three hours I turned and saw that my brother had fallen behind. He said: “Go on, Zerit! Get to land. Call home”. He said: “Bye Zerit”. And I was on the point of fainting in the sea, I couldn’t swim for the two of us, I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night – and I left my brother behind. I called: “Bye Samuel”. I, Zerit, am alive because my brother is dead. My last goodbye I said to him at the camp when they showed me a photograph of a body swollen with water. I who spent my life studying the sea, I’ve explored the seabed and recognized the voices of the seashells – did not recognise my own brother. So he died a second death. The day of the funeral I couldn’t wait for the result of the DNA test that would tell me: ”Yes, that’s your brother Samuel”.

Now those people from television are asking me if I’m sad, and if looking at the sea makes me sadder. But it’s you that have got to give me an answer. Tell me why I wasn’t at my brother’s funeral. It was like leaving him in the water a second time. So I abandoned him for a third time. At the refugee camp on the day of the funeral, to which we – brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers – were not invited, it took us a minute to decide and all come together.

When we realized that we couldn’t go to Agrigento, that there would be strangers who would be throwing flowers on shiny coffins of expensive wood, while there were still bodies trapped in the rotten wood of the boat, we understood that they were dying for a second time. We also forced the gates behind which they wanted to keep us locked up that day, we prayed 4 times towards the south, between our fingers we held wild flowers that grew around the camp, and when it came to the hour of the tragedy we all went down to the sea. It was the sea that I asked about Samuel. Hoping that it will reveal this last secret, or that at least his soul may return that day.

I don’t look at the sea any longer. I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s as far away as possible from this island, and Italy. I don’t want to live in a land where my brother was left to fall asleep exhausted among the waves. Don’t call us migrant victims; we are just survivors. I’m alive because my brother is dead. That’s the truth of it, and you haven’t said it yet out loud. Perhaps the Italians want to know, but even if they don’t, they have to hear it all the same. There are 157 stories like this in the camp. You should get to know them all.

Zerit was born in Eritrea 28 years ago. After graduating in marine science he decided to join his brother Samuel in Sudan, with him continue the journey towards Libia, and from Tripoli reach the Italian coast. Samuel died in the sea October, 3rd when he was about one hour away from the coast. Zerit arrived in Lampedusa.

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