In my own words

“Here, on the boat, is the first time they’ve seen so many other people”

Testimony by Leon & Sophie*

Leon, in his thirties, climbs the ladder that leads from the rescue boat to the deck of the Aquarius. He turns back and waits for someone to pass him his eldest daughter, Nora. He holds her close, drying her hair with a blanket. People try to tease her and make her smile. She doesn’t respond; he speaks for her. “She’s four. She comes from Libya.”

Leon is an electrician; his wife Sophie is a math teacher. They are Cameroonian. He went back and forth between Libya and Cameroon before bringing his wife in 2012. Nora, Olivia and Rose were born in Tripoli.

“The last time I went back to Cameroon, I saw that there was nothing there for me,” says Leon. “But in Libya, we are persecuted. I was kidnapped several times and they demanded that I give them a lot of money. I managed to get out of it because I spoke Arabic. Sometimes the Libyans would haul me into the police station. I explained that my children were Libyans, and so they let me go.”

The family decided to leave in March. “Too much terrorism, too much kidnapping, the girls always had to stay shut up in the house. Here, on the boat, is the first time they’ve seen so many other people,” Leon says. “Before, I never thought I would go to Europe, but over the past few months the situation in Libya just became too much.”

He found work— he considers it a miracle—and paid a smuggler. He and his family had to wait in a camp. “We thought we were going to travel the day after we paid, but we waited, shut up in a house with 200 other people. My girls barely ate for two months. But we hung on, until the day they put us in the boat. The waves were high, but we held on and we prayed,”

“In Libya, you live in constant fear of getting assaulted or killed,” says Sophie. “With the girls, we would like to be able to think about the future.”

Sophie dreams of going back to school and of going back to work as a teacher. But first, she wants her family to have the chance to take a bath. They haven’t been able to do so for three months. “If you’re not even clean, how can you plan for the future?”


*Names changed by editorial staff

Interview: Yann Merlin & Ruby Irene Pratka
Text & Translation: Ruby Irene Pratka