In Sea, 2018
The migratory line Libya – Italy is the most lethal one in the world, 3% of deaths in 2016. Over than 180.000 refugees have reached the Italian coasts, leaving behind them around 4500 persons left who lost their life trying to get to it.
Since its commissioning in February 2016 by SOS Méditerranée, the Aquarius saved 23.687 lives. The ship is pacing up and down the Libyan coasts from Italy. They do not delay to starts shifts on guard watching any craft that might need to be rescued. SOS Méditerranée has answered to the urgent need to undertake rescue operations of men, women and children leaving Libya to Europe hoping a better life. To that end, the association has gathered private donators financing and public subsidies to rent the boat and to cover daily maintenance and rescue fees. On the ship, SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières teams are ready to help refugees. Italians coast guards and military crews are working with them and often drive dinghies from Libya to the Aquarius.
Their action is progressing in three different times. First of all, they save lives. Then, they support and protect the survivors. Finally, they try to make people and governments aware and conscious of the Mediterranean situation.
Ships like Aquarius are necessary for thousand people ‘s survival. These are running away Libya because life conditions are appalling. They often already left their original country, Somalia, Morocco, Egypt, Guinea… to finally only find horror and violence, to endure daily extortions and to remain scared in front of explosions. On the water, they are just passing by. Some are relieved thinking they just reached the end of their troubles, thinking the worst is behind them, and yet the crossing is extremely dangerous. On small inflatable dinghies or other makeshift craft, an accident can suddenly happen. Stuck one another during many hours, men are frequently fighting and sometimes can fall overboard and drown. During winter, the water is freezing and the sea gets more easily raging. Wrecks, hypothermia are common. Malnutrition, dehydration and diseases are coming with the refugees to the Aquarius. They prefer to take an ultimate risk than to remain between life and death in Libya.
“I left my country because everything is difficult there. Life is hard life is expensive nothing is going on. I was not well. I didn’t sleep anymore. I had bad dreams. My mother told me about Italy and she said that in Italy there is peace, work, freedom…everything that a human being needs. We decided to leave. We took a flight to Tunis and then we had to walk through the desert to cross the border. When we arrived in Libya, we were traumatized by armed rebel groups who hit us. One day they put us on a boat, insulted us and hit us before leaving us in the sea. And then we were rescued…”
Kate, 32, Ivory Coast, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“In the Ivory Coast it is forbidden to do excision but my aunts did it to me when I was 12 or 13 years old. It hurt me a lot, I bled a lot. My father didn’t want to do it but my parents-in-law caught me with my older sister and did it to us. Everyone knows that excision takes away the pleasure, so it’s hard to find a boyfriend afterwards…I suffered a lot. I finally found a boyfriend and I got pregnant but I had a miscarriage at 9 months and he left me. At that moment I thought of leaving my life and going to Italy to change everything, to grow up my children without hurting them as we do here.
But on the road I had many problems. On the way back to Libya they kidnapped us and put us in a house: they shot guns near our ears, they beat and slapped us…one night one of the men who was guarding us took me and raped me. He covered his face with a scarf before he did that. They all do it. When he finished I was so panicked that I got my period…
I ran away and got on a boat but the engine broke right away and we couldn’t get out of Libya. I tried to cross again a month later but the Libyans caught us and took us to a prison. There they beat us, my girlfriends were raped, they didn’t give us anything to eat…one day I filmed some Arabs mistreating women and they saw me and beat me so hard with their feet…I started looking for money to get out and I called some friends everywhere. Finally my sister sent some money and I was able to get out of that place. I hid in the city for two months and then I decided to try to cross again: I knew that I could go back to that prison but I couldn’t stay there anymore…I was crying all the time.
We were lucky and we were found by the Aquarius. Now I am safe. I know that I could have a normal life in Europe. I am a seamstress, I could work in that field. But what I really want is to be a great woman, a fighting woman, a woman who does not give up. “
Audrey, 29, Cote d’ivoire, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“There is too much violence in Libya, it is no longer possible to live here. It is too dangerous. Even going out of the house is dangerous. After the death of Gaddafi it was good for two years but after that it was a disaster. Since my husband is a school teacher and my father used to work at the Libyan Embassy in Italy, they think we are rich and they tried several times to kidnap my son to ask for money. Once my husband went out to throw away the garbage with my 11 year old son: they shot him in the leg in front of my son who had to take the car and drive him to the hospital as small as he was! Another time my husband was taking my son to school and they kidnapped him. They called me and asked me for so much money that I sold all my gold and my sisters helped me too and we were able to save him. It is no longer possible to live here. My 18 year old son fled to Germany without telling me. I found out when he was already there. I also decided to take the boat. I had to choose between dying at sea or being shot and I preferred the sea. Now that we were lucky enough to have been rescued I am going to Europe to make my children grow up well and to find my son. “
Aida, 41, Libya, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“I got married at 14 and had three children very early because I had to stop studying. I had no job and life was very hard. A friend of mine said ‘let’s go to Europe to study, it’s not late for us’. I said yes and we left. We walked in the desert for a long time and then we arrived in Tripoli. We were in a small house and one night some men came and took my friend with them. She came back in the morning bleeding a lot…she told me that they had taken all her money and that five men had raped her. I wanted to go and get some medicine but she told me not to go out or they would catch me too and do the same thing to me as they did to her. I stayed next to her and she entrusted me with her two year old daughter…she said to me: ‘Sorry Alia…take care of my child, please Alia…promise me…’ and then she said ‘take my hand’ and she died like that, with her head on my legs…she was my friend from my village, my school. It is for her that I am here. Her name was Kadjatu. It’s been a month now. Then I decided to leave. But I was afraid. I had seen on France24 the people dying on these boats. But I left. When I saw the SOS boat I said thank God…but then I immediately thought of Kadjatu…oh I missed her…and I cried. As soon as I stepped on that boat I cried. I thought of her that I left there. To her who wanted to go to school. To her who gave me the courage. Now I will study. I will do it for her and for me. “
Alia, 22, Guinee Conakry, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters
“In our country there are many problems because of the presidents. The police arrest you, there are fights, they come to your house…people hit you…I fled with my older sister. My older brother has been in prison for five years – he himself told me to leave. We went by bus and I lost my sister at the beginning of the trip. I don’t know where she is. I continued. I took the bus to Agadez and then it was Libya. I found myself in a room where I had no food and people were beating me. They told me to call my mother to ask for money but I told them that my mother has no money and they hit me. Then a man helped me out and I was on a boat to Europe. I don’t know how much he paid for my trip but he told me that I have to pay him back when I get to Europe. We spent the whole night in the water, I had never seen water, I was so scared. Then we saw the Aquarius and I thought I was finally going to a place where people don’t beat you and where you can work. I can do any kind of work I want. “
Farida, 21, Togo, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“I left Syria in 2011 and went to Libya with my husband. They were telling us that there was work there because with the death of Gaddafi things would get better. My house had been destroyed. At that time I had only a 7 month old child. We fled through Lebanon by car, then we took a plane to Cairo and then it took us three days to arrive in Libya. At that time we were fine, there was work and we lived well for two years. My husband was a painter. I was a hairdresser. My husband’s family was also with us while mine stayed in Damascus. In Libya I had two more children. One day we were in a car and people with guns stopped us, made us get out of the car and left us on foot. I had two children and we were left in the middle of the road alone in the night. We decided to move to another city. But there they didn’t pay my husband anymore. Every time he asked for money they put a gun to his head. One day my husband went to the police and after a few days some men came and stabbed my husband in the leg. To continue working he had to pay. And the more time passed the more he had to pay. We finished our money. We couldn’t take it anymore. We went to get a boat. I was praying…I was so afraid for my children on that boat…but I was more afraid of Libya than of the sea. There were 16 of us on a very small wooden boat. When we arrived the sea was big and we saw a boat and we asked to help us but they left us and then we saw a big red and white boat that came to save us. I think they were Italians. I just want to be safe with my children and give them a good life, that’s all.”
Rim, 24, Syria, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“When my father died I was very small and had to stop going to school. Soon after my mother died and I was left all alone. I got married at 13 and had two boys. But my husband abused me and did not take care of my children. One day I decided to leave my children with my mother-in-law and leave. I went to work for a Lebanese man in Abidjan. He forced me to sleep with him. I got pregnant and he left. I gave birth to a girl and my friend helped me: she took my child with her to Abidjan. Then I met a man who told me about Tunis and he said he would help me find a job there. Once I arrived by plane he told me that I had to pay back the ticket: he took my passport and told me that I had to work for people for free for six months. After two months I ran away, I was very scared and I didn’t know what to do so I went to an African woman’s hair salon and told her my story. She helped me by giving me some work and then she told me about Libya. But I was afraid of Libya, I knew about their war. I was convinced and I found myself in a camp with many people. After three days they put us on a boat, it was a small boat, there were many of us. We didn’t eat for three days … some people wanted to throw themselves in the water … we prayed … then a Libyan boat took us back to Libya and the police took us to prison. They said they were going to repatriate us and I was so happy to go home but after a few days they took only us women and put us in a women’s prison. I have never had fear in my life like in that place: they beat the pregnant women, they didn’t give us food, they beat us with the guns on the head…At one moment they wanted to rape me also I ran into the mosque and they let me…but a woman next to me was beaten so hard…they came for three nights to beat her…she was only praying and then she died…she was strong but she died, like that…next to me…
After 6 months a French journalist came, he asked us to speak but we were afraid because if they saw us speaking they would hit us. I got out of there thanks to a Libyan lady who was looking for a worker. She gave me food and then she started to say to me: “Italia? I told her no, I just wanted to go home, but one night she took me in her car and brought me to the beach and there I saw the boat. I was so scared…I was shaking and crying: “What have I done wrong in my life? “The others told me that it would be okay and to stop crying. But the waves came up and I was afraid again…the waves were high and I was so afraid…at the 11 o’clock mark the Spanish came to save us and I cried that God had saved me…
Now that I am alive I only think of finding my children: the two boys that I left very small and the little Nadia in Abidjan who will soon be 9 years old…”
Aisha, 33 years old, Cote d’Ivoire, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.
“I left Eritrea four years ago because I am a Christian and Christians are persecuted in my country, they put you in prison. I was also afraid of national service because I am a graduate, so I fled to Sudan. I worked in Karhtoum as a home school teacher for a while but then I decided to go to Europe, which for me is a land of opportunity, peace and security. I went to Libya with a car. I stayed in a house with other people for seven months because there is war in the streets. Sometimes they came to the house to take people but they never took me because I was accompanying a sick lady. I was so afraid that they would come to rape, kill or make us slaves. The traffickers also ran away at one point because they were afraid of being killed too. They helped us reach the boat on the beach by phone. And so I ended up on the plastic boat with 115 people. We were rescued by Open Arms. Now I hope it will get better. I hope I can continue my education and become a lawyer.”
Salam, 34, Eritrea, December 10, 2018, on the Aquarius, Mediterranean Sea, International Waters.