In our own words #39: “We have been living like refugees in our own home, our own country.”

In our own words #39: “We have been living like refugees in our own home, our own country.”

W. and A. are a young couple from Libya, who were rescued by the Aquarius on September 25th 2017 in the Central Mediterranean Sea.

It was around eight o’clock at night. The sun has just set and the first stars start show in the dark night sky. It was almost the end of my deck watch and as I was making sure that I had talked to everyone to ask them how they were, I noticed a young man who had been staring at the horizon for the past little while. I walked up to him and asked if everything was alright.

He looked at me, smiled, his eyes got teary and he started crying.

“Everything is good, my friend, you are safe now. Everything is going to be ok.” I said. So we started talking.

He spoke Arabic and I spoke English. I don’t even know how we could understand each other. I guess that even language isn’t a barrier to humanity.

The more he looked at the waves and at the sea, the more he realized that he and the others could have drowned and disappeared in the Mediterranean, without being noticed. He thought about the children who were on the boat with him, and all those who died in these waters before, who attempted crossing this deadly maritime route, simply because it was their last chance of surviving.

“We left at night. We had to leave.” It didn’t matter where they were going, he admitted, as long as they could leave the “war zone” that Libya has become. “All I wish for now is to reach a safe place where my wife and I can settle down. A place where we don’t have to fear for our lives every single time we go outside the house. A place where our lives are respected. Where human rights mean something. I don’t wish for anything big or crazy, just for peace and serenity.”

In Libya W., A.’s wife, wasn’t able to leave their house for an entire year because she was afraid for her life. She confessed that as time went by she got “afraid for her mental health”. Before all this she was a technician in a biology laboratory and “loved her job”.

“I love my wife. Our love is big and it is strong. But it wasn’t easy.” Indeed, the couple explains to me how W.’s cousin wanted to marry A. and did not care whether or not they loved each other. He threatened to kill both the lovers if she did not marry him. The cousin set their apartment in Bengazi on fire and chased them when they fled to Tripoli, intending to kill them. Asking for help from the authorities were useless, they explained.

“We lived everywhere: in rented houses, in hotel rooms, in God knows how many different places, just to fight for our lives. We have been living like refugees in our own home, our own country. Living day by day, not knowing whether or not we would survive. Not being able to even have perspectives for your future. We want to settle down and have children, but that is not the way I want my children to live.”

Not only were they living in constant fear of being killed at any moment, but they also knew that there was nobody who could or would have helped them, who would have stood up for them. Not even their own family. A. had lost both his parents: his father was shot, and his mother was killed by an armed group outside a bank as she was withdrawing money for the family. She withdrew 500 Libyan Dinars, which are more or less 300 euros. “That was the price for her life”.

“In Libya the line between life and death is very thin. You cannot make plans. Tripoli is overrun by armed militias. Security is zero, but I refuse to use weapons. I have never used one in my entire life. That is not the kind of man I am, and it is not who I want to become.”

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Testimony and text: Isabella Trombetta
Photo: Anthony Jean