In my own words

“They think you’re a dog.”

“I am Ibrahim*, I’m a 28-year-old technician from Accra, Ghana. I am traveling alone, but I met my friend Abbas here by chance in a Ghanaian food joint in Tripoli, and we took the boat together.

I left Ghana almost a decade ago – on 28 July 2009. I simply left because I was curious and wanted to explore the world. Not out of want for money or anything. I took a bus from Accra to Niamey, Niger, stayed there for one and a half months, and then on to a town called Agadez before entering Libya. At the time, there were Tuareg rebels in the desert, which meant that I had to hire soldiers to escort us across the desert. We paid a man who organised the soldiers. I did not have a passport, just a Ghanaian ID card.

I always had genie mercy with me, God’s mercy, and I did not experience any hardship. It cost me about 500 USD to get from Accra to Sabha in southern Libya, where my great-auntie lived with her husband. I lived with them, and my great-uncle was a technician, so he taught me all he knew and I worked in Sabha. My destination was always Libya, and I never thought of coming to Europe at all.

This was still in the days when Gaddafi had power. There was rampant racism then – they called Africans „abat“, which means „slave“ in Arabic – but I was free, and I got a passport and also obtained a residence permit. After the revolution, things fell apart. I don’t know how many times I was robbed – how many phones did I lose? Countless! – nor do I know how many times I was randomly arrested. What I noticed the most was that after the revolution, all of the sudden, there were guns everywhere. In Gaddafi’s time, everyone had knives, so if you were a strong man, you were able to defend yourself. But if you’re faced with a gun, what are you going to do? Even 5-year-olds have guns.

Sabha became the most dangerous place in Libya. Before, I lived a normal life, but after the revolution, you had to pay extra caution – inside the house, outside, everywhere. Once, someone walked into my house and asked for my papers. I showed them to him, and he ripped the residence permit out of my passport, just like that. I was also arrested and placed in detention centres, and I was beaten so many times. Libyans are North Africans, but they call us „Afarka“ – Africans – and treat us differently. They think you’re a dog. Once, I was handcuffed for two days, before I paid with my last money and was freed. I have never been sold as a slave, thank God, but I was not free.

I decided to make the crossing to Europe last April. I was kidnapped again. But this time, I was kidnapped by a Libyan guy who was my friend. His name is Hosam. I still know his number by heart. It’s in my head, and I can’t get it out of my mind. He took me to his father’s house and stripped me of all my belongings, including my new phone. I realised then that I was not safe anymore. In August, I attempted the crossing with a rubber boat for the first time. We were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard. It had an Italian flag, so we thought that we were safe, but they turned out to be Libyans. After that, I was put in a detention centre. Some NGOs came to inspect it, too, but every time, the Libyans knew they were coming, and gave us new clothes and good food, to make the living conditions look better. I don’t know the name of the NGOs. Eventually, I was able to pay some money to get out.

This time, I did not have to pay anything for a seat in the rubber boat, because I knew a lot of people and I asked for favours. When I get to Italy, I would like to get legal papers, work, and visit Ghana. I would also like to write to Hosam, and tell him: „If you think you’re a man, come get me here in Europe.“ And I would like to get my great-auntie to come to Europe to stay with me. But not like this: Properly, with a visa, and by plane. Safely.”


*Name has been changed

Text: Hanna Krebs
Photo Credits: Anthony Jean/SOS MEDITERRANEE