In our own words #38: “I almost suffocated, it was too cramped on the boat.”

In our own words #38: “I almost suffocated, it was too cramped on the boat.”

J., Central African Republic.
J., left Bangui almost three years ago. Alone.

The travel route

When war broke out in my home country, I went to Cameroon. I stayed there for about two years. When the war started with Boko Haram, I fled again, as I was afraid. First I went to Niger, but Boko Haram was there as well. Finally, I arrived in Algeria. I was there for a year and wanted to stay in Algeria, but the Algerians do not like black people. Sometimes they hit you for no reason and chase you back to your country.

I was traveling with my cousin. We met in Cameroon.

I was afraid, so I went south, to the border between Algeria and Libya. My cousin and I wanted to find work there. He is an electrician.

In Libya I was kidnapped. After working for two or three days, they came one day around 8pm. Criminals just took us away. I do not know exactly where to. I was in Libya for two weeks.

In Libya, people are bought and sold, it is very dangerous there.

We spent three days driving from the border to Sabratha (from Saturday to Monday). The car had tinted windows.

The prison

It was a house with other Africans. We were imprisoned. There were no windows. We were never allowed to leave. I slept on the floor. Sometimes they gave us a little something to eat, but not always. Sometimes a piece of bread and some juice.

Many people were imprisoned here. In Libya people are sold. They are taken from the streets to another city and sold there.

In prison people are abused. Sometimes the guards come and just beat you for no reason. They force you to call your parents, they give you a phone, and you call your family, so that they pay money for you to go free. Mostly, they will not let you go, even if your family sends money. You just stay there.

They did not call my parents. I could not have paid any money, I have no money. I lost my mother in the war. Where my father is, I do not know. My parents were killed in the war. I have brothers and sisters, but since I left my home, I do not know where they are.

I was beaten in prison. Because I’m still young, I always apologized. Some people had pity on me, others just kept beating me.

One day they took me outside and put me in a car. It was Libyans. I do not know why my cousin had to stay. He is still in prison, even though we were abducted together.

The windows of the car were tinted. I couldn’t see anything. The journey lasted an hour or two. They took me to the sea, and from there we set off. We stayed one night at the beach in Sabratha, it was very cold. In the morning we were put onto the dinghy.

I did not know that I would be put into a boat. On the boat I asked where we were going, and they told me ‘Italy’. When I asked why, the others said they did not know it either.

We left yesterday morning, around nine or ten.

The rescue

People were shouting and pushing each other to get off the boat. The boat broke into two. Luckily the people of the Red Cross were there. They gave us life vests. Otherwise I do not know what would have become of us.

The water ran into the boat all the way up to my chest. The gasoline leaked. It was hot.

A few people fell into the water, fortunately they were wearing life vestss.

I almost suffocated, it was too cramped on the boat. We were very many, about 150.

I have been ill since I was born (chronically ill).

I was relieved when I saw the rescuers. If it weren’t for them, I do not know what would have happened to me yesterday. The rescue took place around 2 pm.

 

His clothes were returned to hom on arrival on the Aquarius. 

I only own this one pair of pants. I bought them in Algeria at a market. I had a job there (as a painter). I got some pay, but not always. In Algeria they do not like Africans. They consider themselves Europeans, although they are also Africans.

I worked every day, but they just paid me when they wanted.

I took off my T-shirt when I was no longer able to breathe on the boat.

I only had the undershirt (on undershirt one can see, up to which point the water reached him).

When I left Algeria, I had a jacket, a cap, a telephone, and a bag with other clothes. My medication was also in there. They took everything from me.

***

Text: Laura Garel, Narciso Contreras
Photographer: Narciso Contreras
Translation to English: Lea Main-Klingst