In our own words #42: “We want to leave your country, why do you intercept our boats?”
Testimony of Bakhari* from Mali
This is the third time that Bakhari tried to flee Libya along the treacherous route across the Mediterranean. The first time he was stopped by the so-called “Asma Boys”, a Libyan street gang. The second time, he was intercepted at sea by the Libyan coastguard and brought back to prison. On his third attempt, in December 2017, he was rescued by a Spanish vessel. Afterwards, the survivors were transferred onto the Aquarius, which brought him and the other 372 people to a port of safety. Aboard the Aquarius, the team of SOS MEDITERRANEE was able to record the following testimony, whose fragments tell us how Bakhari experienced his different flight attempts.
Trying to escape
“The first time I tried to flee, the Asma Boys intercepted us – they are criminals. Their ships aren’t as big as the Libyan coastguards’.
The second time, I was intercepted and arrested by the Libyan coastguard – that was about two months ago. It was following a long journey, as there was fighting in Sabratha, so we were brought to Tripoli and in the early morning, at about 3 am, we were put on boats close to al-Chums.
At around 9 am we reached international waters, but one of the two rubber boats that left together had a hole.
To our surprise, we saw a military helicopter overhead just shortly after. We thought: ‘Now the humanitarian helpers are coming’, but unfortunately it was the Libyans. A ship appeared, we searched for its flag – it was Libyan. We did not want to be captured by the Libyans, so we tried to get away. Yesterday with the Spanish ship, we were also afraid that they were Libyans.
When the Libyan ship caught up with us, they threw ropes for us to take, but we did not want to take them. We tried to get away and everyone was very afraid. Their ship followed us. We did not want to put anyone in danger, we had many women and children with us. That’s why in the end, we agreed to let them take us on board. Nobody fell into the water – thank God.
Yesterday, when the Spanish ship came, we were also very afraid, but later I told my friends ‘Look how well these people treat us.’ On the Libyan ship we weren’t even given water. They took us aboard their ship, washed their hands and ate in front of our eyes, without giving us anything.
The Libyan ship brought us back to Tripoli.”
“In the harbor there were aid organisations that recorded our addresses. That was before we were put onto a bus that brought us back to prison. But they aren’t proper, organised prisons. You can’t even sit down, that’s how crowded it is. You have to step on other people to get anywhere. There are no more aid organisations inside the prisons. And there is rarely any water. Fridays and Saturdays there was no water at all. And if there is ever any water, you never know when you will get some the next time, so you drink it very slowly. One time, we were given five litres of water at once and then nothing for three days, so we started drinking dirty water. We were given uncooked macaroni to eat.
A few of my friends said that it was better to drown than to be in a Libyan prison. It is hard. We risk our lives. We’d rather drown than to be arrested by the Libyan coastguard.
In prison, we climbed through a window to escape. They caught one of us and he was beaten. We have to get our brothers out of Libya. It’s not a good country. The Arabs do as they please with us blacks. As if we were still slaves. It is stuck in their heads, because their parents and grandparents always told them: ‘The blacks are your slaves.’ That’s how people in Libya still think today. If you walk along the street as a black person, the people will call out ‘Kalabou, to prison with you.’ That hurts. You get to Libya and quickly end up traumatised. I came to Libya in July and have attempted the crossing three times already. “
*Name changed by editorial staff
Interview/Text: Mathilde Auvillain
Translation: Kerstin Elsner, Sonja Finck, Lea Main-Klingst
Photo Credit: Anthony Jean / SOS MEDITERRANEE