Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,300 people have died or disappeared while trying to cross the central Mediterranean. This journey, known as "The Adventure", is taken by thousands of women and men from all over the African continent with the sole objective of having a future.
Young people from Guinea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali ... leave their homes when they are still adolescents, and even children, to try to reach Europe. Their motivations are varied. From helping their families financially to escaping hunger, war or the effects of climate change.
On Monday, September 20, 2021, a total of sixty people, including six women, twenty-four minors and a seven-week-old baby, were rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams aboard the ship Geo Barents. During the rescue, many survivors shouted: "Our suffering in Libya is over." Months of abuse and violence had finally come to an end, although most of them still bear the scars of the physical and mental injuries suffered along the way.
This report, through portraits and interviews, shows the traces of traumatic experiences that most of them have suffered on their roads through the desert, in transit countries, at border crossings ... A look from respect to the human pain.
This story aims to raise awareness about the difficulties and daily violence that people in countries of the global south are exposed to in search of a better future. Western migration policies constantly imply unnecessary suffering for thousands of innocent people every day, in the central Mediterranean, on the borders of the Sahel or in Central America.
So far in 2021, approximately 27,000 migrants and refugees have been intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya thanks to sponsorship from the European Union.
60 people were rescued in one dayOn Monday, 20 September 2021, a total of 60 people, including 6 women, 24 minors and a 7-week-old baby were rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams on board the Geo Barents vessel. During the second rescue, when MSF Rescue teams were approaching the unstable boat where 54 of them were travelling on, many survivors screamed out: ‘Our suffering in Libya is over". Months of abuses and violence had finally come to an end, even if most of them still carry the scars of physical and mental wounds suffered along the way.
Aayan* from SomaliaI arrived in Libya in January 2020, after a long trip across Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. I was held against my will by smugglers in a room without windows and didn’t have any food or water. There was only one toilet for all the women being held captive in a small and suffocating space. I remember that once I didn’t eat for seven days.
The smugglers’ faces were covered all the time, we could only see their eyes. They used to stand all the time at the door, with guns. Escaping was just impossible. During my captivity, I was beaten constantly with wires and electricity. They came inside the room and threw women to the floor. They took off the women’s clothes. They pulled the women’s hair badly and hit them. They tortured us all the time. Many people from my country were held captive against their will and most of them died in that place.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, everything got even worse for me. Torture and beatings increased and every day I was obliged and forced to clean the smugglers’ houses. One day, while I was cleaning, one of the smugglers was busy taking care of his kids, and I managed to run away just to end up in another prison, in Zawiya. This time, smugglers helped me and other Somalis to escape. I got injured during this attempt, cutting my forehead, which caused a big wound. I wasn’t able to contact my family for the last six months. Once I will arrive in Europe I hope to find a job where I can help people in need. I want to help people.
Baptiste* (24 years old), and Sophie* (27 years old), a couple from Cameroon, were rescued in September 2021 along with their 7-week-old baby, Bienvenu*In 2021, Sophie and I arrived in Libya. I had never seen people behave in such an inhuman way. We have been treated worse than animals. En-route, I witnessed a lot of violence, sexual violence and group rape. We finally found a hangar in a neighborhood of the capital to live in. We found jobs, and we managed to eat something. These were really hard times, I felt desperately alone. I kept on living because of my family.
During that period, I got kidnapped and detained in a small, isolated room. The kidnappers forced me to call my mother in Cameroon, to ask her to pay a ransom or I would die. My mother had to sell the small piece of land we had. It was the only thing she had left. After my family paid the ransom, they beat me again. I spent five days locked in that room before I got free. Eventually, some man dealt with them to get me out and he helped me afterwards, to take care of myself.
I will always remember the day our child was born, on the 6th of August. My wife Sophie had to give birth to our baby at “home”, because access to health care doesn't exist in Libya for black people. I was treated like rubbish; a dog had more value than us. We had no other option than give birth at home.
Boubacar*, a 20 year old man from MaliI arrived in Libya in 2019. Just the word ‘Libya’ is scary for me now. I spent a lot of time there, always trying to escape. One night, we got into a 12-metre boat, but the engine stopped functioning and we went back to Libya. I then worked for five months before I tried to cross to Europe for a second time. We were caught at sea by armed guards in the middle of the night. They took us back to Libya and locked us up in a centre. Conditions there were disgusting. They killed some of my closest friends in front of me, it was horrific. They meant a lot to me, after all the beatings and abuses we had gone through together. Every day we would see wounded or even dead people. We were treated as if we were not human. After months locked up, one day an airstrike hit the centre in Tripoli. I survived.
I tried to cross to Europe again, but the Libyans caught us again, and we were locked up, again. I spent another five months in a detention centre with three friends who all died there. Do you understand? They treated us so badly, repeatedly beating us with sticks, that my friends couldn't survive. We had to use that horrendous place as a toilet, but drink the water from the same place.
Luckily, I was freed at one point and went to town, where everybody knew me and called me “grillé” [French expression to mean burned] because I managed to survive all sort of dangerous things. But thanks to God – I did survive. I had been through so much that I was unable to talk to anybody. When I was sitting in a corner, people were saying ‘this man is crazy, get away from him’. In the detention centre, you do become crazy. I stayed strong and focused, despite having lost people in front of my eyes, which hurts.
During the confinement in Libya, we spent eight months surviving by selling cans of aluminum to buy bread. Then I left to the capital and worked two months as a mechanic, 24 hours every day, I worked like a slave. For six months, the owner only paid me half for my work. It was forced labor and we were also beaten. These guys are heavily armed. They shot at me once, but I survived - again.
In Tripoli, I was locked up in the underground floor of a building, in complete isolation. After three months they let me go out to see the light finally. The day I saw the sun I thanked God. Thank God, I'm still alive even though I've lost friends and brothers. I left the country without losing my soul, without losing my conscience, without losing my mind.
Assane*, 23 years old Mali,My life in Mali was not easy, it was not easy at all. For almost 4 years, we cannot grow anything on our fields because of the risk of being killed or attacked by the jihadists. My brother had two wives and 6 children. One day he was with his cattle outside town. Four people came with arms and killed him and took the 80 cows. I was shocked, I was really shocked after that. The situation was unbearable. Since 2016, the war crashed on us and didn’t leave. I don’t have words to really explain what was to live there. I left my town in 2017 and since then I didn’t come back. First, I travelled to Bamako, then the Ivory Coast. I didn’t manage to find a way to earn a living, so I came back to Bamako for a month and, afterwards, I left for Algeria. I left my family, my children and my friends and try to do “The Adventure”. To try to reach Europe, find a job and earn some money to help them.
I was in Algeria for one year working for 2000 Dinars. They didn’t give us food, so we must buy it with this amount. After this year, I decided to move to Libya, but I was caught by Algerian police in Deb-Deb who pushed me back to Niger. I managed to come back to Tamanrasset where I spent one week waiting to be sent to Deb-Deb again by the smuggler. Once there, I spent 3-4 days until we left at night to Ghadames. We arrived at 3.00 and we hide in a garden until 19.00 when we left again.
Libyans are really bad persons; they have treated us very badly. They came to our house with guns and kidnapped one of my friends. They forced him to work as a slave. Then, they asked him to pay for his freedom. Thus, I thank God to allow me to leave this cursed country. It is the hell on earth. All the things people tell about Libya are true. I have seen them. All of them. I really hope my brothers and sisters who are still in Libya suffering to be able to escape soon too.
Portrait of some unaccompanied minorsMinors, unaccompanied or not, face an extra layer of vulnerability. In many cases, they are victims of human trafficking, slave work or sexual violence. Along with all “The adventure”, they must overcome extremely difficult moments that will stick with them forever. MSF teams rescued children at the age of 15 and 16 years old that leave their home when they were 12 years old were.
Samuel, 21 years old, Ivory CoastIn 2017, I was at home and a friend called me: “You will come with me to Burkina Faso to do a small job and come back?”. I said yes. Once we were in Ouagadougou he confessed: “I wanted to do “The Adventure” with you, I knew if I asked, you will not do it but now we are here you will. I will pay for everything”. Once we arrived in Zawiya (Libya), a smuggler asked for 350.000 cfa to cross to Europe. My friend had parents with money, he called them to pay for the trip and he crossed in November 2019. I didn’t have that luck because my family is poor and has no money, plus I didn’t tell them anything about I was in Libya. Before leaving, he kindly gave me 100 euros and told me: “Start working and gather some more to complete the ticket. Keep yourself strong and motivated. God will help you”.
I worked and worked for three months. On the 10 of January 2020, I tried to cross for the first time. Unfortunately, after 20 minutes our engine died. We called the Libyan Coast Guard to save us but they didn’t come so we stayed at sea for more than 24 hours adrift until a boat took us back to the beach. When we arrived, there were a lot of policemen waiting for us. They transfer us to the prison and around 30 people managed to escape. I didn’t. The police called reinforcements and when they came, they started to hit hard on us. They hit me a lot until they broke my feet. It was the first time in my life I was in prison. The leader of the militia came and said to all of us that if we wanted to get out we had to pay 2500 LD. I spent one week with my feet broken. During this time, they gave us rice with drugs to keep us slept and without force. Each morning they asked who wanted to call their family to send money. In my case, I spent this time crying because of the pain in my feet so they decided to sell me to the smuggler. He helped me to heal my feet but, obviously, I had to reimburse everything so I had to work extremely hard afterwards.
I asked myself if one day I would manage to leave that country because all that I was living was bad. I worked and sometimes Libyans didn’t give me anything. They shoot us with their weapons, or they said: “you take this little money, or I kill you”. During this time, I also asked myself if I would see again my father, my mother, my two sisters… There have been so many boats that sank, three times my mother called me and asked if I was in one of these boats. She started crying asking me if I was ok and I told her that yes because I didn’t want her to know what I was going through. I didn’t tell her anything because that will destroy her, I know her, she is my mother. If I would know what really means “The Adventure” I would not take this route but as I was already in Libya what I could do, only go ahead.
I have witnessed everything during these years, people beaten in front of us, robberies, all you can imagine that I cannot describe anymore. I asked myself if Europe existed because it was hard to understand why we could not leave Libya after years of working. There was no freedom for us in Libya. Now, I have finally got back my freedom and I thank everyone that help me through this travel.
Bienaime*, a 25 year old man from Guinea-ConakryI am the oldest one, in charge of taking care of my whole family. In 2017 I left Nigeria by bus to Algeria. The trip lasted 4 days and cost me all my savings. I arrived in Libya in 2017 and I spent five months there until I could attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. But unfortunately, I was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard in international waters and brought back to a detention center in Zawiya, where I spent three months. In that place, if you had money or you could call your parents you would be freed.
Detention in that place, in the end, is all about money, and if you don’t have money, you can stay forever - forgotten. Some of the detained people didn’t have money to pay and were forced to beat and mistreat other migrants themselves. The guards force migrants to hit other migrants badly to gain their own freedom.
I have experienced physical and mental violence – tortured - because I couldn’t pay the ransom. The torture was horrendous, the guards used to beat you to force you to call your family: when your relatives pick up the phone they beat you even harder to make your family suffer from your screams and pain. After some time, I managed to gather the money from my family and I was freed.
I finally managed to escape to Algeria, where I’ve spent years working on a building site in Oran. In March 2020, I tried again and I crossed to Libya. The life in Libya was horrible, a terrible experience.
I hope to get to Europe as soon as possible. Once I will arrive there, my only goal is to get a job and help my family as much as possible.
Alpha*, a 25 year old man from Guinea-ConakryI crossed half of the African continent, from Guinea-Conakry to Nigeria, to arrive in Libya. At night, with a group of around 100 people, including pregnant women and minors, I crossed the desert to Libya from Deb-Deb (Algeria). On the other side of the border, the smugglers were waiting for us to be transferred to a warehouse in the middle of the desert, they covered our heads with a black bag, and we were locked inside for three days, without food or water. My group was transferred to another smuggler’s house. There, we were told we were lucky, because we arrived in good shape, without any broken legs or arms. After three days in that house, we were transferred to a “camp” in Zawiya, where we were beaten and tortured every day. The site was managed by criminals who had forbidden us to go out. Everything we needed, food and water, had to be bought inside the camp. Once a guy went out for water and when he came back, he was beaten to death.
After three months, we were sold and got on a boat to Europe, but the boat broke. We drifted into Tunisian waters, but we were intercepted. Libyan Coast Guard pushed us back to Tripoli and detained. People kept asking for water, but we were not given anything. Not even to the pregnant women. They (LCG) didn’t even look at us, as if we were not there.
Waiting to be transferred to the prison from the port of Tripoli some people tried to escape, but the guards opened fire at them. Gladly, no one was killed, we were brought back to a detention centre. When they put me in the truck, the guard started shooting into the air. I started crying because I thought my time was up. When we arrived at the detention centre, the guards said to us: ‘Do you want to go to Europe, here is Europe!’” But it was not Europe.
We were beaten in the centre every day and subjected to extortion. Those who could not pay the ransom were forced to torture other detainees, to gain their freedom. One day, the guards came to me as well to ask for money. I was asked to call my brother, but my brother's wife picked up the phone instead. When I told her that I was detained in Libya, she started crying. The guards forced me to say that my relatives had to pay, or I would be dead in 24 hours. After the payment was sent, I was transferred to a warehouse and forced to work for a smuggler in a shop. I spent the next eight months waiting for an opportunity to reach Europe. Eventually, I made his second attempt and this time, I was not pushed back.
Kossi*, a 34 year old man from TogoMy father abandoned us; me, my mother and my three brothers. She had to feed us and look after us. We were extremely poor. In 2005, because of the political turmoil in Togo, I had to go into exile in Benin. I left my mother behind, it was so painful. That’s why I came back to Togo as soon as possible. But we were still really poor. In 2017 we were in such a desperate situation and because I was still chased by political opponents, I had to sleep in the bush.
My friend told me to go to Libya where he could find me a job. In September 2017, I left Togo for Nigeria, where I worked for two months to save money for the trip across the desert. On the way to Libya, I was caught by the Chadian police, along with other 50 people. When we heard that the Chadian guards were talking about selling us to other smugglers, I managed to escape. For three days I was hiding in the desert until I could call my friend for help to reach Tripoli. That was in January 2018.
I started working in a carwash station to pay back the money I had borrowed from my friend. Some time later, criminal gangs broke into our house and stole everything - mobile phones, savings. They kidnapped my friend, who had helped me to travel to Libya, and since then, I have not been able to contact him again. I found myself alone, living in the streets.
In 2020, I was robbed and attacked again. Since then I cannot walk easily. This September, I tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and I was rescued by the MSF rescue ship, the Geo Barents. I always think about my mother. If I reach Europe and get a job - it will be for her.
The deadliest migration route to EuropeSince the beginning of the year and as per 25 October, more than 1,202 people died or went missing while attempting the perilous journey across the central Mediterranean while approximately 27,000 migrants and refugees have been intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya by the sponsorship of the European Union.