Photo credit: IOM/Monica Chiriac
“When I left Gambia, due to the former political situation in my country, it was a challenge to find work. I couldn’t afford to continue my studies either so I decided to go to Europe; I had been encouraged to go by friends who had all made it there, but it was never my original desire. By the time I reached Agadez in Niger, I had already started losing all hope.
After spending almost two months on the road to Libya, I proceeded to Tripoli where I was supposed to take a boat and cross to Europe. At about 10pm on the night of the crossing, our boat broke down. A rescue boat came and took us back to shore and then to Griana prison; there were over 100 people there. They would give us one pot of milk and one piece of bread every day at midnight, then we wouldn’t eat again for the next 24 hours. Every couple of days someone else would die. I spent almost three months there until they decided to relocate some of the people to another prison in Sabha, including me. I spent another four months in the second prison until my family paid a ransom.
After I got out, I worked for four months until I saved enough to go to Tripoli again. That was my second attempt to go to Europe; we spent almost a month in the connection house in Tripoli until the weather was stable enough for us to cross. On our way, the water mixed with oil in the boat's engine, and it stopped. We were stranded at sea for four days. Some fishermen captured us and took us back to prison where I spent another four months.
Once again the jailers made us call our families to ask for money in exchange for our release -- my parents told me that upon my release, I should go back to Gambia. Some of my friends didn’t even have contact numbers for their families. They assumed that they would only get in touch with their families once they reached Europe. For these people it was impossible to get released because they had no one that could pay for them. If you don’t pay, you don’t get out.
Finding food was a daily struggle: you need money, and in order to get money, you need to work. However, working is a risky business. On your way to work you can be robbed or, even worse, killed. One day on my way back to the ghetto with my friend, we were attacked; the assailants shot him dead. I took him back to the ghetto and someone managed to take his body to a hospital, where it lay for a week before they decided to bury him. After I attended his funeral with his younger brother, I called his parents to let them know what had happened, and they begged us to go back to Gambia.
The things I have seen in Libya are a valuable life lesson for me. People are different - some lose their minds over the things they witness in Libya. I don’t want my family or my country to lose me. Maybe I can become someone once I’m back, and help my country develop, but I need to be alive in order for that to happen. My fellow brothers need to know that this route is one of sacrifice. You don’t know how you will die, but chances are it will happen. We should stay in our country and feed on what we have.”
Souleyman has benefited from voluntary return and reintegration programme under the EU-IOM Joint initiative funded by the EU and implemented by IOM.