In my own words

“We pay a terrible price to come to Europe”

Testimony by Y., Cameroon

On the afterdeck of the AQUARIUS lies Y., 21 years old from Cameroon, on a blanket.

Slowly he is regaining his strength. It hasn’t even been 24 hours since his rescue, and according to him he is still in shock. It sounds as if he wants to apologize: “In Libya people are walking around with firearms like the people here are with their iPhones. They are not good people. It makes me sad to think back to that situation.”

Even though the events are etched into his mind, Y. doesn’t know, where the four rubber boats had left from.  Two of them were rescued by SOS MEDITERRANEE on Sunday, while the passengers of the other two boats had been gathered by a team of Doctors Without Borders aboard the Dignity I. 

“All I know is that we embarked on the rubber boats at 11 pm.” The procedure was explained to him. But the young man had never seen the ocean before. “I’m still shocked! I wasn’t aware that we would be so close to the sea. But then I saw the waves…” With his eyes wide open he adds: “If I had a choice at that moment, I would have returned immediately. The entire trip I kept my eyes closed. When our saviors arrived, I was so glad! Without them we would all be dead by now.” He inhales deeply: “Now it’s over”.

Upon arrival on the AQUARIUS, all the rescued were barefoot, without mobile phones and only carrying empty bags.

“Before we went on the rubber boats we waded through the water, we had to leave everything that was red or made of metal. And all the mobile phones. They told us red things would pull sharks, because they’d think it’s blood. So we gave them everything: SIM-Cards, USB- Sticks and so on. Later I realized that they were afraid we would record the passage. They took everything: memory cards, compasses, everything. Just because they were afraid we would make recordings. But I saved every memory in my head.” 

“On your way through Libya you never exactly know where you are. We sat in a van and they covered our heads with blankets. You’re driving through random cities and you just can’t see anything”, Y. explains “ To Tripolis I was transported in a trunk. They were putting two to three people together in a trunk, so we could not see where we were going. The smugglers know that we were to be questioned later.”

From Tripolis Y. was brought to a depot building. A month later they went on the rubber boats, in the middle of the night. “In each hall about 300 people, maybe more, were shut together, closely packed. Look, you can still see the bites – flea bites, like we are dogs. We didn’t have any blankets there, and just two toilets. We slept on dirty mats, we slept outside and at night we stole dates to have something to eat. But for the worst, we didn’t have normal water to drink, they gave us salty water, seawater. We lived like dogs. There were times, when there was just one portion of food for eight to ten people and we had to eat with our bare hands. Luckily we didn’t come down with cholera. We ate plain pasta. We suffered terribly. It was awful.”

“These people are criminals, they treated us like animals, like slaves. They live from slave trade. They despise us. If you understood Arabic you could hear how they called us dullards or even worse.  Despite the fact that they’re African people, too! But they beat us, they hit us with gas hoses. They hit me too, very often. They injured us badly, they even hit the old people. Although those could’ve been their fathers! How could you be so cruel…?”

Y., who entered the AQUARIUS like many other people on Sunday, had fallen into the human traffickers hands because he had no other possibility to reach Europe. 

“Had I received a visa I would have traveled to Europe and returned to my family afterwards”, he says. “But it’s almost impossible to get a visa, and that’s why we’re going on our own. If you don’t have rich parents you don’t get a visa, not even for studying. We pay a terrible price to come to Europe. “

Text: Mathilde Auvillain

Translation: Ilona Rüsch