In my own words

“Anything they see on a black man’s body, they’ll take – you’re not allowed to have it.”

“I am Abbas*, I’m a 31-year-old fashion designer from Accra, Ghana. I am traveling alone, but I met my friend Ibrahim here by chance in a Ghanaian food joint in Tripoli, and we took the boat together.

I left Ghana in 2016. I left for Nigeria, because life was difficult at home, and I thought that Nigeria was better suited for the fashion scene. I took a bus from Accra to Lagos and stayed in Nigeria for 3 months.  I have a friend who is living in Munich, and he sent me money to Nigeria so I could start my own business. Unfortunately, it failed, so I went back to Ghana before eventually returning to Nigeria again. I then stayed there for 2 years.

While there, I chatted to a Ghanaian friend living in Libya, and it seemed to me that the living conditions there were better than in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there was a lot of crime, especially around the Niger delta. There are “bad boys” who don’t want to work and want to make easy money. If you’re not a local, they will snatch your phones. I had no problems, but I lived in constant fear.

My friend in Libya encouraged me to come, so I arrived in Libya on 17 March 2018. I went to Agadez, Niger, before transiting to Libya. On the way there, we had a car accident, and I broke my shoulder. You see, the bone here is sticking out, and to this day I can’t lift anything heavy. The accident occurred because the driver saw soldiers, and because transporting us was illegal, he panicked and crashed. I reached Sabha in southern Libya and rested for a week to recover from my injury.

One day, I was arrested on the street by Libyan men, no police or anything, just men. They took me to an empty house and beat me for two days. (Friend Ibrahim adding laughingly: “Beating is compulsory.”) Then, other men picked me up and put me in the trunk of a car to drive me to Tripoli. It stopped at many places to change cars and drivers, and after 5 days, I reached Tripoli. It was hell. Those days were truly hell.  One night, they just tied me up in a bush and left me there, until someone picked me up the next day. I could only hope someone would come.

When I got to Tripoli, I was allowed to call my friend, and he bailed me out. I lived with him for a while. He tried to find me a job, but if you are new and don’t speak Arabic, you constantly have to look over your shoulder. Anything they see on a black man’s body, they’ll take – you’re not allowed to have it. See, this ring here, they’d take it, so I never wore it in Libya. It’s not expensive, but I never wore it.

The problem is: once you’re in Libya, you can’t get out. The same people who stole from you on the way in will steal from you again on the way out. They will strip your money on your way to the border. I’m scared of this water. It’s crazy, I saw pictures of capsized boats on CNN, on Al Jazeera. And when I got on the boat last night, I said to myself, “Today, I’m the one in the boat.“ It’s something I used to see on my phone. I had to “zero“ my mind and not think about it.

My friend paid for my seat on the boat, and this is my first time crossing. When I met Ibrahim at the Ghanaian food place, he gave me hope.

Nigeria is like heaven when compared to Libya. Living in Libya is worse than being in a European prison.”


*Name has been changed

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