This is the moving story of Mohamed, a Cameroonian, about his 3-year journey through North Africa in his attempt to reach Europe. It’s a story of ordeal and suffering and encounters with death, which made the young man to finally decide to return home.
“I left Cameroon back in 2013 to find work elsewhere. I spent a year and a half in Algeria and then six more months in Morocco. After they repatriated me to Mauritania, I went back to Algeria and then I finally made it to Libya. I was mistreated in Algeria as well – they even set fire to the house where we lived, but it was my experience in Libya that made me decide I had had enough.
One night around 2 am, they boarded 125 of us into a boat going to Italy. The boat was very small, it even said on the boat that its capacity was for 80 people, but they didn’t care. Seeing the situation, some people refused to board and they shot at them. There is no going back once you get to that point. You have no choice but to move forward. After one hour, we realized that the boat had a hole in it and that water was coming in. As the captain tried turning the boat around, it capsized and we all fell into the water. People started screaming as we tried to stay alive.
My next memory is waking up in the hospital and hearing that six of us had died. It was a miracle I survived since I don’t even know how to swim. The police came next and took me to prison where I spent the next two and a half months. After I was released, I started working in construction until I got very sick. As a black person, if you get sick in Libya, there is no one to help you. Some pharmacies don’t even let you in. I was really sick and would beg the pharmacists to help me, and they would just tell me to get out. If you go to the hospital, they will check you for diseases, and if you have something serious, they will kill you. I thought I was going to die there.
African migrants detained in Libya. “In prison, every morning they would pick up another corpse, people in a coma, sometimes more than one body, maybe 4-5 in a week. We never slept at night – there was no room to lay down so we would just sit” / Photo: UNHCR
One of the times I went to ask for meds, an officer stopped me and asked me for papers. When I said I didn’t have any, he took me to prison. Once he brought me there, I showed him where it was inflamed and he spat in my face. He told me to sit, and then his friend took all of my clothes and pointed his gun to my head. He told me to call my family and ask for money. I said I didn’t have anyone to call so he started hitting me. I was so hopeless I just told him to go ahead and kill me.
In prison, every morning they would pick up another corpse, people in a coma, sometimes more than one body, maybe 4-5 in a week. We never slept at night – there was no room to lay down so we would just sit. They don’t have any feelings towards us; they hate black skin and call us monkeys; they say that we don’t deserve to live. I hope one day they will understand that we are all God’s creatures and that we are all equal.
I have lost so many friends in Libya: some at sea, some in prison while other lost their mind. They left as normal people and came back crazy. People take a big risk when they venture on this route. I advise anyone who wants to take this route to think twice before embarking without a visa. Even if you do make it to Europe, no one can guarantee your happiness. I have friends who have been there for years and want to come back now. They still don’t have papers or a steady job. I can’t wait to go back – it’s been more than 3 years since I last saw my family. I am only 20 years old, but I can tell you now: I will never take this road again – never.”
The interview with Mohamed was conducted on 26 September 2017 by officials of OIM Niger.