By Noora Jussila, IFRC
Had he known better, Abdoulie, 38, would probably not have used all his savings and borrowed money from his mother to get to Libya.
Like many young African men, Abdoulie was dreaming of going to Europe and finding a job that would help him to provide a better life for his wife and four children. Instead of reaching Italy, he ended up being caught by the Libyan police and put into a prison for two months.
“If you have the money to give to the police, you’ll be able to bribe yourself out from the prison. We didn’t have any money, so instead the police beat us up. They also forced us to work for them for free,” Abdoulie says.
After Abdoulie’s friend was shot dead in front of his eyes, he decided he needed to get out from the prison at any cost. After escaping he was able to reach the border city of Abu Kammash and in the night he started to cross the border on foot with other men.
Soon they were met with the flashlights and guns of the Tunisian national guards.
“We told them that we are migrants coming from Libya and they replied that you are safe now.”
The first night they spend in a camp, where they received blankets, food and water. The following day they were taken to a Tunisian prison, where all the migrants returning from Libya are taken for 15 to 20 days as a standard procedure by the Tunisian authorities.
After two weeks Abdoulie was transferred to a Tunisian Red Crescent-run centre for migrants in Medenine, where, with the support of UNHCR and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, he now waits for his visa to travel back to Senegal. Those at the centre receive blankets and food – something that is luxurious for those who are arriving from Libya – as well as medical care and medicines.
Looking back, Abdoulie thinks he should not have taken the journey, adding that in Senegal you will only hear from those who made it in Italy.
“They told me about the hardship they experienced on their journey, but I thought I can handle it. What I experienced – the beating, forced labour and seeing people getting killed – was something I simply could not imagine,” he says.
“Libya is a very dangerous place. When they ask you for more money and you don’t have, they will shoot you. I don’t want to see anyone taking that journey anymore.”
After his return to Tunisia, Abdoulie has suffered from sleep deprivation. In the evenings his mind wanders back to Libya. Luckily he has been able to see a Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) psychologist who works together with the Tunisian Red Crescent at the centre, and now things are looking better for him.
“My sister used to work for the Red Cross in Senegal. Whenever I see the Red Cross or Red Crescent symbol, I know that I will have my freedom because they will help me. I advise anyone who is in the same situation as me, to look for the Red Cross or Red Crescent because they will help you.”
For Mamadu, 48, the journey to Libya cost more than his savings. His family decided to leave Mali after the armed groups raided their house destroying everything. Last December Mamadu, his wife and three children stepped on a boat together with 140 other passengers.
“We had left the shore when another trafficker came in another boat and demanded more money. Our boat was a rubber boat and when we couldn’t afford to pay him, he cut the boat with a knife. When the boat sank, I was the only one from our family who was able to swim back to the shore. My wife and three children all drowned.”
“I will regret the rest of my life, that I took this journey,” added Mamadu.
Both men are relieved to be living in the Tunisian Red Crescent centre for migrants where they say they are treated with humanity and dignity.
“It is the duty of the Tunisian Red Crescent to provide these migrants safe and secure living conditions after the horrors they have witnessed in Libya,” says Monji Slim, President of the regional committee of the Tunisian Red Crescent.
IFRC, through the Migration Fund, is supporting the Tunisian Red Crescent with stock on hygiene kits and clothes for migrants arriving at its reception centre in Medenine.