In our own words #34: Mohamad’s story
Mohamad,* a 30 year-old man from Guinea Conakry was rescued by the Aquarius on 16 May 2016.
He departed from Libya on-board of a rubber boat that was carrying 137 persons. They were all transferred by the Aquarius on 17 May to boats of the Italian Coast Guard, taking them to Lampedusa.
Among them, six men showed fractures: four of them had arm fractures, the two others had hand and finger fractures. Only one of them mentioned an accident. All others claimed that they had been regularly beaten. Dr. Erna Rijnierse, then MSF-Holland doctor on the Aquarius, reported an “amazing amount of old and new marks of physical abuse, fractures that did not heal well”, and confirmed that these men had probably been beaten with sticks (such as baseball bats), most probably during their stay in Libya as they have testified.
Mohamad, a tall and sturdy lad, was one of the six men whose arm was fractured. When he arrived on the Aquarius, his right arm was wrapped in a rudimentary “brace” made up of small wooden sticks. After she examined him, Dr. Rijnierse concluded that he was in need of a surgery (his arm bones were not aligned and one of his nerves did not function anymore), but that he would probably never regain the complete use of his arm.
This is Mohamad’s story:
« My father is Mauritanian and my mother Guinean. I grew up in Guinea Conakry, but I never had the opportunity to go to Mauritania. In Guinea I used to do some masonry work, I managed more or less to make a living. Recently my mother died, so my father encouraged me to visit my family in Mauritania. I asked him to give me the money to pay for my return transportation, and I travelled through Niger where I was told that the “Rainbow” bus was going to Mauritania. This bus was too expensive for my budget, so a man at the station told me that a pick-up truck was going to Mauritania through the desert. Considering my financial situation, I decided to take this means of transportation because it was cheaper.
We were twenty-five passengers on-board, and after driving for a little over 100 kilometers, we were attacked by rebels. The driver and the person sitting next to him got killed. Then we were all taken from inside the pick-up truck. They blindfolded us, took us away and sold us. They said they would break the arms of all the tall and sturdy men. When I was flogged, they broke my arms with their bare hands. Never had I felt such a pain in my entire life. They never gave me any medical care and they just wrapped my arm and tied it with wooden sticks.
This happened about a month and ten days ago. They beat us with rifles, with big sticks and they kicked us with their feet. They asked each one of us to pay the equivalent of 2000 Euros, otherwise they wouldn’t release us. I told them: “I have no money, my father is poor, how would I manage to pay?” But if you don’t pay, you might get killed.
I spent a month at the mercy of these rebels, but I never knew where they had taken us. I had never wanted to go to Libya, it wasn’t my destination. Just like the other passengers, I thought I was going to Mauritania.
They sent us every morning to work in the fields. Even if your foot or arm is broken, then you had to work with your other arm. They gave us food only once a day. They beat us, tortured us, and they came every day to hand us the phone to call our parents and ask them to send money. If they see that your family is ready to pay, then you are favored and given good food. If not, you are ill-treated.
I managed to escape and reach the boat in less than a week. I had friends who were in a similar situation and who encouraged me to take this journey. Before being taken on the dinghy, we were kept in a big yard and we were not allowed to go out. I didn’t know where the boat was going to: only when I was on board did I learn that we were going to Italy. I did not pay anything for the journey, because I didn’t have any money. But once we were at sea I got very scared. I would never ever do it again, even if they promise me paradise.
Today my dearest wish is for my arm to recover. It is severely broken and I’m very worried about it. The doctor aboard the Aquarius has given me a paper that I have to show upon my arrival to Italy in order to be treated.”
*Name was changed
Text and photo: Nagham Awada