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2020 (Narrative date)

There is an estimated 48,000 people living in modern slavery in Libya (GSI 2018). Libya is a major transit destination for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by sea. Human trafficking networks have prospered amid lawlessness, created by the warring militias that have been fighting for control of territories since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Highly organized trafficking and migrants smuggling networks that reach into Libya from Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and other sub-Saharan states subject migrants to forced labor and forced prostitution through fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, debt bondage, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. In some cases, migrants reportedly pay smuggling fees to reach Tripoli, but once they cross the Libyan border they are sometimes abandoned in southern cities or the desert where they are susceptible to severe forms of abuse and human trafficking. 

Berhane chose to travel from Eritrea to Europe through smugglers, however he found himself trafficked by brokers and being locked inside for a year. After being released from the trafficker’s camp, he and two friends, Abraham and Kidane, decided to cross the sea together.  They were put out to sea in an old wooden boat that was leaking. They were three days at sea, with no food and no water to drink. Some of the passengers died. Today, the three friends are earnestly advising other people not to go on this dangerous journey. They say enough is enough, irregular travel through Libya should stop now. 

Berhane’s narrative is part of a conversation with two other Eritrean men in a refugee reception centre in Malta, discussing their experience of taking the Libya route to Europe. 

My journey to Libya, I remember it was in July, we were 850 people. We were divided in five cars. 160 people in one car. We spent a month in the Sahara. We were drinking water from bottle caps. You remember, it was all over the media then. So many died, there were many who weren’t even buried. So many died on the way, it was very bad and very difficult. You'd be beaten if you begged for water. You'd be beaten if you tried to protect your sisters from being abused. They’d take our sisters and do bad things to them. It wasn’t easy. The traffickers did many bad things. Even the brokers that you thought were your brothers and that you trusted to help you depart would do bad things to you. They might even sell you. 

It was very difficult, you know how it was. Kidane, you stayed in Libya for two years. You know what life was like there, eating boiled macaroni every morning. We've all be through that.  

Being locked inside for a year where you can’t see the sun. Where you get lice and skin diseases all over your body. With no water to drink or even wash yourself with. You know how difficult it was.  

And having gone through all this you saw how much fear we had of the sea. Yet you would be so eager to go to sea. To escape from that life, where sometimes you wished God would take your soul.  


We came to the sea and were put in a useless boat made of wood. It started to leak once we’d departed. The three of us departed together. We remember how it started to leak immediately after departure and how we tried to bail out the water using water bottles the whole journey. We were on the same boat, and it was God’s will that we made it together. Together we saw what the journey on the boat was like. We all have the scars. We’ve been through difficulties in Libya and Sudan. It was going from bad to worse.  

We lost brothers and sisters during the sea journey. You remember them. May their souls rest in peace. They didn’t achieve what they wanted. The only thing we can do is to pray for them. Many Eritreans died in the sea. They had to flea many problems and had no other choice. They departed after paying a lot. They mothers who had nothing had to sell their gold. But they didn’t succeed and died in the sea, and their mothers are grieving.  


You're right, all Eritreans have scars from their journeys in exile. Scars from the past and from all the difficulties and challenges.  


We want to say it’s enough. Enough with taking the Libya route. It should stop with us. And for such bad things not to happen to our brothers, I wish those responsible would do something about it. Now, what we should do is advise the Eritreans who are motivating others to take this route not to behave that way towards their countrymen. 


Narrative produced by Telling the Real Story, an initiative facilitated by UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency