“They told us it would take an hour to get to Italy, but we soon realised that we were lost. It was dark and we never thought someone would find us.”
Ibrahim is among the 560 people the Aquarius rescued on May 18th 2017 from four crammed rubber boats. He is only 18, but he has spent the past seven years of his young life on his own, away from the country where he was born as well as from his family, who adopted him as a baby war orphan in a refugee camp in Guinea.
“Europe has always been my dream. I left Guinea, because my family is poor and they could no longer take care of me.”
Ibrahim left at the age of 11. He lived and worked in Mali and in Algeria before he reached Libya six months ago. As soon as he crossed the border, all the money he had was taken from him and he had no choice but to work for free on construction sites.
“I worked for food,” he says. “I needed to eat, but they never paid me any money.”
Two nights ago, a friend Ibrahim met in his work place in Zabrata woke him up and told him to run to the shore. “He said this was my chance to escape, that they would let me on the boat for free.”
A chance to escape is what people like Ibrahim are after when they board a rubber boat on the coast of Libya. Sometimes they are told and believe Italy is close. Mostly, though, they’d just rather die at sea than stay where they are.
“Libya is hell on earth for us Africans,” says Ibrahim. “To them (the Libyans), we are like animals, slaves. If you walk on the street anybody can take you and sell you.”
This living hell was only a part of Ibrahim’s horrifying journey through life. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, he lost his parents as a toddler. He became a refugee in a poor country, where his adoptive parents were unable to provide for him. That is why he left Guinea. Not for Europe, but for another African country, and then another one. Not only was he a migrant worker, he was a child-migrant worker.
All of this happened before Ibrahim even reached Libya’s hell. Before he turned 18. Before he risked his life at sea. Before he disembarks in a country he thinks of as a paradise. A paradise, to Ibrahim, is a place where young people can go to school, where workers are paid.
“I want to start a new life and call my family in Guinea to tell them I am fine. I was never able to call them from Libya.”
A new life is all Ibrahim is after, just like thousands of more young men the Aquarius has rescued.
I wonder who would deny the right to a new life to a boy who lost his parents in a war, who has been exploited throughout his childhood, who was enslaved in a foreign country. Who would tell Ibrahim that he should be brought back to Libya from the sea he almost died in? Who would tell him he should have never left home? Who would say this to his face?
The answer is we do all the time. Whenever our governments sign treaties aimed at keeping migrants stuck in Libya, it’s Ibrahim we are imprisoning there. Whenever we assume young African men are just economic migrants and they don’t have the right to stay in Europe, it’s Ibrahim we are rejecting. Whenever we say “they” should stay at home, it’s Ibrahim whom we are denying the right to a better future.
Text: Tiziana Cauli
Photo: Kenny Karpov