I met a group of young men from Guinea Conakry aboard the AQUARIUS. They were amongst the children, women and men SOS MEDITERRANEE had rescued simultaneously from two rubber boats.
The young men between 16 and 20 stick together once on deck. This is not unusual behaviour, considering that all those rescued are from many different countries. During this rescue, in mid September, the people are from 15 different African countries, there is a group of 42 from Guinea Conakry. People usually gather around those from the same country. Some have formed groups on this part of the deck, the others made themselves comfortable in another corner of the vessel. They stay together.
“We want to go somewhere where we feel safe. Where we come from it is not safe for us”, says one of the young men from Guinea Conakry. “We have different ethnic groups in Guinea Conakry. We belong to the one minority. And the other group controls everything”, says another.
The situation in Guinea Conakry has been fragile for several years. After the civil war in neighbouring Liberia ended in 2003, the ethnic problems spilled over into Guinea Conakry. Different ethnic groups supported different groups in Liberia which lead to internal tension in Guinea Conakry. Every now and then there are attacks between different ethnic groups, sometimes with casualties.
“We have no chance in this society in our country. The others control everything and we cannot work, cannot get jobs, we have no money, we are not accepted. No chance for us, so we left Guinea Conakry.” the men tell me.
Some of the minors have lost their parents, some simply leave their beloved ones behind and try to find a better future. Normally their unknown journey takes them to other neighbouring countries where they try to work. In the end almost all end up in Libya, where they hope to find well paid work – but this is far from reality.
“In Libya we were beaten with fists and with weapons. We were working but we never got money. In the mornings they gave us one potato to eat – for the whole day. We did not get drinking water but only salt water. Even children run around with weapons. It is dangerous. They shoot without asking. It was horror for us. We had to leave this terrible country.”
Some of the young men express their wish to study; some others simply want to work. They speak French but no English and they do not know yet, to which country they really want to go to. How they want to continue after arriving in Italy?
“We don’t know. I want to go to Norway” one of the younger says. I tell him that it is quite cold in Norway. He is looking at me with big eyes “Very cold?” I tell him it could be down to minus 20˚C. Silence. Then all are laughing. “In any way it is better than where we come from. We will wear all kinds of woollen hats” and he is pointing to one of his friends in the group that is wearing a kind of woollen ski hat – already here on board with 30 degrees’ air temperature at that moment.
I also have to laugh now and wish them good luck, knowing that it will be difficult for them, but hopefully better than what they went through so far.
Text: René Schulthoff
Photo Credits: Marco Panzetti / SOS MEDITERRANEE