On 23 May, 2017, the SOS MEDITERRANEE SAR Team rescued 1004 people from 8 rubber boats and 2 wooden boats in international waters.
A lady asks to talk to me and as soon as we find a somewhat quieter place she tells me she is 37, from Ivory Coast, but has just escaped from Libya, pointing out that this is what she wants to talk about.
“My problem is that I am completely alone, my husband was in Libya with me and he disappeared, I do not know anything about him. I’ve been waiting for him for three months, but he never came home again. I do not know if they kidnapped him, if he is alive or dead. I left Ivory Coast eight years ago, my father died a long time ago, my mother is Malian and has returned to her country. In Ivory Coast it was not safe to live, especially if there is no man as head of the household. We left for Mali, my husband with my four children of 5, 7, 11 and 15 years and I, to live all together with my mom, my four brothers and three sisters. We were in Gao for four years, until the war came.
My husband did not take care of the children, he was violent, he beat me as soon as I spoke, he did not want the children to go to school, for him it was not worth it. So they have become vagrants, like their father. I could not keep them, they did not listen to me, it was as if I had no children. I divorced my husband, I hoped to help them, I wanted them to go to school. But they listened more to their father and to the street life. The problem was we did not have anything, not even the money to pay for school. I decided to go to Libya to work and help my family.
On the road to Libya, I stopped in Algeria and stayed there for two months doing housekeeping, but they paid me very little. I realized I would never earn enough to help my children. So I continued my trip to Libya.” I ask her to tell me about the days spent in the desert. Like many people remembering this experience, she lowers her head, stays silent, then she looks at me and gives me a shy smile: “The desert? Do you want to know about the trip across the desert? It was too difficult. All women are beaten and raped. I was also beaten, they stripped me naked … see these signs, they have done all this ” and she showed me scars on her legs and arms.
“They strip us, saying they want the money and all that we have, they want to see if we hide something. But it is not true, they also want to put their hands on everywhere, even in your vagina, I can never forget what they did. Many women are raped, but fortunately it did not happen to me, because a man I was travelling with helped me by saying he was my husband.
I started living with him in Libya, a woman alone can not survive that evil. But even then it was not easy. To go out was too dangerous, he worked but so many times he was attacked and they stole all the money. He and I were living together and now I’m seven month pregnant. But he is not there. I do not know if he disappeared because he did not want this baby or if he was kidnapped or killed, but you cannot abandon a person in my state. I relied on him. I do not know what happened to him, everything happens down there, you can not imagine.” She seems to believe that this man decided to leave without saying anything, but maybe she cannot accept that thought and prefers to think that he may have been kidnapped or may have died.
“I could not stay alone in Libya, I saw women taken away, I was afraid they would take me away too, I could not leave home even to buy something to eat. So I decided to leave with a boat. If I had stayed in Libya, I would have definitely been dead. I was afraid of the sea but everyone was talking about Europe and Italy, saying that it is a free country where you can work. I worked at a woman’s house who did not pay me, but she helped me take this white rubber boat. We were so many, I did not want to get on the boat, it was dark, you could not see a thing, I was scared. I was with all the others on the beach and I felt that they were pushing us onto the boat, I had no choice.
And now I’m with you. Thanks to you, thanks to God, I made it. ”
Text: Francesca Vallarino Gancia
Photo credits: Anthony Jean / SOS MEDITERRANEE