Every night around 9pm, the SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) 22 team members onboard the Ocean Viking try and help the rescued people find some space to rest on the floor of the Ocean Viking’s wooden deck.
On the evening of the 19th of August, people were still brushing their teeth, slowly getting into the disposition of sleeping, when a young man approached me, wanting to share his story.
Moussa is 18 years old. He was only 16 when he left Sudan and arrived in Libya. He was immediately captured and sent to the Beni Waled trafficking warehouse. Moussa still carries the stigma of his time there: “I stayed there for six months. I was tortured with electrocution and repeatedly beaten”, he explained. “I was finally released when I managed to find enough money.”
He then decided to go to Tripoli, looking for the infamous “job square”. A Libyan family employed him on their property. But his hard work revealed to be unpaid. After several months, he found a way to escape. “That’s when I decided to leave Libya”, he recalled.
He first attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea in November 2018.
“We stayed in a raft for 32 hours. We had no food and no water left. We started to become desperate. Then a big ship rescued us”, he said.
“People on the “rescue boat” told us they would take us to Sicily. But they took us in Misurata port in Libya”, Moussa whispered.
Moussa and 81 other survivors where actually being intercepted by a cargo ship called “Nivin”, 115 miles east of Tripoli. This day comes back to his memory onboard the Ocean Viking, as the long waiting time for the designation of a Place of Safety is awakening fears to all rescued people onboard the vessel.
The “Nivin” stayed in Misurata port for almost two weeks, with people refusing to disembark. “We would have rather died than be returned to Libya”, Moussa explained.
“I was terrified of leaving the ship, knowing what would await me in Libya. But one day, the Libyan government forces got on board and forcibly took us out”, Moussa said.
Moussa knew what was coming next. He and the other survivors were put in detention where food was insufficient, water was only saltwater and beating continued daily. “The guards would also let some people come from outside. They would choose some of us to go and work all day before bring us back at night”, Moussa added. That’s how, after 7 months of detention, torture and exploitation, Moussa managed to escape… again.
“I know of people that are still detained there”, he added, worried.
Two months later, Moussa paid 2,000 dinars (1280 euros) to escape by boat for the second time,. After 16 hours at sea on a rubber boat, he was rescued by the Ocean Viking.
“I am afraid now. I know what happened to us with the Nivin ship. We will be taken back again to Libya”, Moussa says with a horrified face.
I looked Moussa in the eyes and told him: “I know it is hard for you to believe me after everything you’ve passed. But I swear to you that you are safe now and there is no way we will ever take you back to Libya”.
Text and photo by Avra Fialas/SOS MEDITERRANEE – onboard the Ocean Viking