Last Saturday, Hadim Mbye, a 31-year-old migrant from The Gambia, boarded a small rubber dinghy together with over 130 others at a beach close to Tripoli in Libya. They had almost no supplies, expecting to be on the water for just a few hours.
By Monday morning when the boat finally reached dry land, most of those who had begun the journey together had died, likely either from from exposure or dehydration. Hadim and the few other survivors shared the rickety craft with the lifeless bodies of 74 of his fellow travellers. The others had fallen overboard, lost to the sea during the gruelling journey of more than 27 hours.
Hadim shared his experience of the ordeal with volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent’s Zawiya branch, who also recovered the bodies of the deceased from the stricken vessel.
“We set off on Saturday from one of the beaches west of Tripoli. That night, the weather turned violent; we tried to return to the coast but we could not turn our boat around. We were 133 people stuck on board the boat.
“While the waves pounded on our small boat we were very afraid. We tried to call for help from boats, but they sailed away from us. In the bitterly cold night, we saw a long white ship – we screamed for help, but to no avail.
“Panic began to set in among the passengers. Everyone rushed to the back of the boat near the engine to try to get help from the white ship. Three people even jumped overboard. The stampede caused the boat to fill with water.
“This is also when the engine fell overboard. I also lost my phone that we were trying to use to get help. I asked everyone to stay calm and keep their faith.
“We were now floating adrift in a boat half full of water. We held hands while water swept around our feet, reassuring each other that with the help of God we would reach the beach.
“Sadly, many others fell silent and disappeared in the darkness, one after the other surrendering to death.
“We all wanted to survive. After some time, we knew we had no choice but to allow the bodies of our dead friends into the sea, to lighten the load on the boat if we were to have a chance to live.
“I kept telling the others that they had to keep faith, and not give up while we paddled towards the shore with our hands.
“After more than 27 hours in the sea, we saw the sun rise behind the power line towers on the shore near the city. We regained hope, and gave everything we could to paddle towards land.
“Praise God for our faith – this is why we did not give up before we reached the land.
“On the beach, I found the ID card of one of my friends. The sea has taken him. I pray for God to receive him and all the others, so they can rest in peace.
“The reason I got into that boat was to be able to support my family and my children who live in poverty in the Gambia. I now pray that I can be with them again.”
According to Hadim, of the 133 people who boarded the boat, only 24 survived the ill-fated attempted crossing. Among those who made it back alive, two are in intensive care in hospital, receiving assistance despite the acute shortages of medicines and other supplies in Libya.
Libyan Red Crescent continue to do all they can to help migrants throughout the country, whether in the desert south, in detention facilities, or on the shoreline. The help that Red Crescent teams offer is for all – new arrivals, voluntary returnees, and survivors like Hadim. Sadly, the Red Crescent will also have to continue the difficult task of ensuring dignity for those who die in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean, so long as people like Hadim are left with little option but to risk this dangerous journey.
The original story as recorded by Libyan Red Crescent volunteers in Arabic on the Zawiya branch Facebook page.