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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.  

Deborah left her home in Nigeria because her stepmother treated her badly. She wanted to become a fashion designer and when she met a man who promised to take her to Europe, she gladly accepted. It was a big surprise to her when after arriving in Libya, she was told that the journey stopped there, and she had to start working as a prostitute. 

My name is Deborah, I’m 20 years old and I’m from Nigeria. I went through Libya to Malta. This is my story. 

Life in Nigeria was very hard, very tough. My dad had three wives but the third wife brought a lot of trouble. That’s why I decided to leave Nigeria. A friend of mine introduced me to someone, a man who said he’d take me to Europe. The agreement was that when I’d reach Europe, I’d work as a fashion designer so I could pay them the money.  

When I left Nigeria, it took us two days to reach Niger, Agadez. We reached Libya on a Friday, so it took us five days to get there. The very first day we reached Libya, he sold me to a woman, I told them I wasn’t going to work, this wasn’t where they promised to bring me. The woman said no, here is where I was headed.  

I told them to take me back, to take me back. They said that was impossible. The first woman I was sold to was Abigail. She took me to her place and told me to start working. I asked her, what work? She told me to put on shorts and start working. I told her I did not understand, which was that work? She said I’d work as a prostitute. I told her I wouldn’t because that wasn’t the work I was told I'd be doing here.  

She said this wasn’t Europe, this was Libya and you must work. I said I refused. Then she sent me to a woman called Success. Success was a very wicked person; she was a witch and even worse than Abigail. So the two people I was sold to were witches, like the devil himself. I didn’t want to work because in Libya people have a lot diseases. I am still young, and I don’t have children yet. Then, they would pour cold water from the fridge on my body, beat me, and say I must work. After all the beating I decided to (work) and pay them their money.  

So that was it, I was surprised I ended up in Libya using my body to work, that wasn’t what we had agreed. 

When I had finished paying, I still had to pay money to a woman called Fatima. I gave her money to take me to Tripoli. She took me from Murzuq to Sabha. Then she took me to Sabratha but she didn’t pay the smugglers. Even in Sabrata, they still wanted to sell me because I still owed money. It was there that I met my husband. My husband paid the money and rescued me from there. I went to stay with him. We left Sabratha to Sorman and still faced other challenges. We went from one smuggler to another but didn’t succeed. It was only on the sixth attempt that we reached Malta.  

They took us in a wooden boat. We were 26 people, four pregnant women and six children. The rest were men and women. We spent three days at sea and called for rescue. We faced a lot of stress. 

I thank God I’m in Europe now.  

Many people feel pressure to travel, because many who lose their parents decide to travel through Libya. Some have friends who went to Libya and tell them it’s good and they should come there. Some are Madams themselves. They’ll tell them to travel to Libya.  

Going to Europe – it's all a lie! You’ll be sold in Libya. 


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