Tareq* is maybe in his thirties. We do not ask him this time around as it is just a brief conversation. He says “I was working as an engineer in Algeria. I had a good job. One day I was simply kidnapped and brought to Libya. They forced me onto a boat. I did not want to got to this boat but I had no choice. Believe me, I did not want to go to Europe, I was fine in Algeria, I want to go back to my job.”
It is not just a single case, but numerous, that are clear indicators of human smuggling. We hear more and more of these kind of testimonies from the people we have rescued. Ibrahim* from Senegal lost everything. “Boko Haram killed my mother and father and other relatives. We lived in the South in a small village. I had to run away. Then I met these smugglers. They brought us through the desert. It was terrible. There a lot of people died, they had no water and no food.” He, too, was forcibly brought to a detention centre in Libya, when he reached the country. “One day they gave me to somebody and I had to work there on a farm. I got no money. And some months later I had to go to the beach and they forced me onto this rubber boat.”
On the Aquarius a colleague spoke with another rescued young man. “I have been on my journey for three years. I went to several countries to work and then smugglers brought me to Libya. I did not speak to my mother because I promised myself to call her only when I am save. I don’t want her to worry about me.” When Frank* came aboard the Aquarius following his rescue, his clothes were soaked in a mixture of salt water and diesel. His clothes were taken away and we gave him a new, dry track suit. “But the telephone number of my mother is in my old pocket. Can we find it please?” he asked. Some started to search the big waste bags and found it in one of the waste bins. The only thing that connects this young man with his mother – a piece of paper with a telephone number. A colleague took the paper with the number, laminated it and gave it to him. “I will call her, when I am save on land” the young man said.
Our photographer Kevin spoke with some men from West Africa. Many of the people we rescued, had been performing unpaid, forced labour for years in Libya. “Some have shown me their wounds from torture and started talking about it after a while. You won’t think of that, when you see them smiling at you and just keep going. Now they can hopefully look forward and forget about their past” Kevin says. “I met this man at the end of my watch on an upper-deck and both of us just looked to the South. The man said to me: ‘Libya… no good… Thank you! Merci!’ – that was it. No more questions, no more words, just us and the sunset.“
Text: René Schulthoff
Photo: Kevin McElvaney