Testimony by Xavier*
With every operation, the Aquarius brings on board, or receives from another ship, between 100 and 400 people. Some are fleeing religious or political persecution. Others are trying to get away from countries or regions where war or terrorism threatens lives. Many are fleeing extreme poverty. Xavier, from Côte d’Ivoire, belongs to none of those categories.
“All I wanted was to get as far as I could away from my mother’s second husband,” he says.
“My little brother and I lost our father several years ago. My mother remarried and her new husband never appreciated us. He hit us, he mistreated us, he was a drunkard. We were scared that if we stayed in Côte d’Ivoire, he and his friends would track us down and hurt us or kill us. We lived in fear of what he was going to do. My mother is always afraid of him, and I’m scared for her.”
The last straw came several weeks ago. Xavier’s stepfather hit him on the arm with a heavy stick, probably breaking the bone.
Xavier ran, with his 16-year-old brother and their cousin, leaving behind his country, his family, his university studies in finance and his career plans. “We were just going where the wind took us,” he says. “In the desert I had to hang on to the truck with one arm. My other arm was swollen and hurt so much that it made me dizzy. My brother and my cousin held on to me so I didn’t fall.”
“When we got to Libya, we stayed around two weeks in a camp with other Africans. Nobody ever left. Very quickly we realized there was no way we could stay in Libya. We asked around, we spoke to other Africans and we got in touch with the smugglers.”
Before the boat left the beach, Xavier realized something was wrong. “The boat was damaged. You could hear air leaking out. But I got in. I had already decided that it was better to die at sea than to live near a person who was going to end up killing me.”
For Xavier, his brother and his cousin, the ordeal at sea ended after four houts. They were picked up by the Phoenix, a rescue boat maintained by the Maltese NGO MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station). With his injured arm in a cast, Xavier was transferred to the Aquarius with other people needing medical assistance, and was taken to Messina. His brother and his cousin were transferred to another ship and dropped off at another Italian port. Xavier’s first priority is to find them. And then?
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do. All I wanted was to get away.”
Interview: Ruby Pratka
Photo credit: Isabelle Serro