They were 98 on board of the rubber boat rescued by the Aquarius during the 22nd rescue. They came mainly from Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ghana, as well as from other countries… A sort of mini “Babel ark”, if we could call it that, where communication rapidly turned into a dialogue of the deaf. Between Tigrinya, Tigray, Amharic, Bengali, Arabic, English, French, how to convey a message understandable by all those embarked without cacophony and confusion?
“Our main problem was that we could not understand each other because we spoke different languages”, tells an Eritrean man. Another one confirms: “If someone said: “Sit down” and we understood “stand up”, then people started fighting. It was difficult to calm down the situation. We tried to separate the people to avoid fights.”
What made it more complicated was that there was no assigned pilot. “Each one was trying his best to steer. The water started entering the dinghy, the plywood at the bottom started to break, and we were losing direction, we did not know which way to go.” After twelve hours at sea, the situation got more and more difficult. “We came across four ships that ignored us and went their own way. We were hopeless, ready to die.”
Before getting here, some say they paid the equivalent of 2200 US Dollars without even being able to do the journey the first time around. “The first time we were about 150, but fifteen of us were brought back after one hour, while the others managed to make the sea journey. We were detained in a house for fifteen days. The smugglers claimed we had been arrested by the police, but they actually played a trick to charge us a second time” tells A., a 23 year-old Eritrean man. N., one of his 38 year-old fellow countrymen has been through a similar experience. “They took us to the seaside and told us to stay there. We spent the whole night and the whole day. We did not know why the boat was not ready. The smugglers kept us in a small house for three days until the police came to arrest us. We suspected the smugglers to have informed the police because the boat was not ready.”
What drove these people to leave their countries and face a thousand dangers before even reaching the sea? A. started the journey from Khartoum, Sudan. “While crossing the Sahara, we witnessed a car accident. The smugglers told us that the passengers of one of the cars that were with us were all safe, but we never knew what had become of these men.”
For N., staying in Eritrea was just as risky as leaving. “I served in the army for fifteen years. My duty station was near the border with Ethiopia, so I was accused of helping people to cross. I was once detained for the same accusation, and an officer who is a relative of mine, told me to be careful because I was filed and in danger. I left Eritrea because I was not feeling safe there anymore.”
He adds that in Sudan, a man from his village who was in contact with the smugglers organized the Sahara crossing to reach Libya, for an amount of 1300 US Dollars. “In Sudan I met three persons of my family. We started the journey together, but then they were taken elsewhere and I don’t know what has become of them. The man from my village who organized the travel has changed his phone number and disappeared.”
There is one thing that N. wishes above all: to bring his wife and children to join him wherever he is. “I had no money to bring them with me. My five brothers died in the army and there is no one else to support my family. We have a little farm so my wife works in the fields to make a living.” Because of his departure, he fears his wife might be interrogated or even imprisoned. “They might ask for money to release her if she’s detained.” Will he manage to protect his family from being harmed? “I have never experienced freedom in my life. Above all I want to live in a free country”, he says.