Interviewed in Palermo, Sicily, May 13, 2009
Daniel, a 26-year-old Eritrean, interviewed in Palermo, Sicily, on May 13, 2009, told Human Rights Watch not only about how interdictions were carried out prior to May 2009, but also about the brutality of the smugglers, the dangers of the journey, and the ill treatment at the hands of the Libyan authorities:
I left Eritrea because there was no freedom there. They made you serve in the military with no limit. I would be willing to serve for five years, but not my whole life. They treated you badly. It was really hard. It was very hard to flee. The Eritrean government has an agreement with the Sudanese government. At night the Sudanese take Eritreans who have crossed into Sudan and give them back to the Eritrean government.
I fled through the desert. I spent about ten days in the Sahara desert in a small Land Rover with 34 other persons, including pregnant women and children. If someone fell from the car, the smugglers wouldn't stop. They had guns and said they would shoot us if we caused a problem.
After five days we had almost no food or water. They put benzene in the water so we wouldn't drink so much. Before we got to Kufra, I don't know if it was in Libya or Sudan, Janjaweed [bandits] stopped and took our car and driver and left us. We waited for a day in the desert until a Libyan smuggler came and asked each person to pay $350 more to take us to Kufra.
There was a beautiful girl in our group, about 16 years old. When we arrived in Kufra they put us into a house. They told us to call our families to send them money. They held us for two days in the house. They beat us if we spoke to them. They took the underage girl outside. We then made a problem for them. We were able to help her the first day. On the second day, the girl did not have money to go with us. The Libyans made her stay behind. There were 68 people in two cars, and she was the only woman left behind. The Libyans were always trying to get to the women.
We went to Ajdabiya, where the Libyan smuggler sold us to another Libyan who took us to a room and told us we needed to pay him another $150 to go to Benghazi. Some did not have the money. They locked the door so no one could go out. We saw a lot of writing on the wall. People had been there for five days, ten days. I think these smugglers were from the police. They just wanted money and to get to the women.
I had no money and had lost hope. After five or six days the Libyan man got angry with us. He told us to give him whatever we had, wedding rings, necklaces, and he took us to another smuggler in Benghazi.
There are a lot of checkpoints between Benghazi and Tripoli and you need a small card that lets you pass the checkpoints. It costs $100. At the first checkpoint, the police made us get out of the bus. They asked us one by one to show our cards. I was fortunate because I speak Arabic. I said that I was Somali and I acted strong like I wasn't afraid. But the Libyan police beat one of the men who didn't speak Arabic. The policeman told us to be gone in five minutes or he would kill us.
At the third checkpoint, they made us get out of the bus and they took all our money. A policeman shot his gun in the air. We walked to the police station. They made us clean the police station. We did a good job, cleaning the toilets and everything, and they gave us water. Later we ran away. We didn't know what direction to go. We were on foot. We walked. There were no trees. Nothing green, just desert. No cars would stop for us. We gave up hope. Finally a Land Rover came and took us back to the police station, but we didn't go in. We went back into the desert and kept walking. We were dirty. We crossed places with signs that said "Danger." Cars wouldn't stop for us, but finally a bus stopped even though we had no money to pay him. We promised to pay in Tripoli.
In Tripoli, the big smuggler, [Name withheld], paid our bus fare. He took us to a big house filled with a lot of Eritreans and Somalis waiting to travel. They would not let us leave the house. There were about 190 people in the house. The doors were locked. We spent one week without leaving the room.
They took us from there to a farmhouse outside the city that held about 200 people with one toilet. Every day the Libyan smugglers came and took ladies to do whatever they wanted with them. No one slept well. We were scared of them and scared of the police. No one was allowed to ask any questions.
The smugglers took us by truck to the sea, where they beat us with a stick to get us to board the boat. They crammed 264 of us onto the boat. There were pregnant women, babies, children. The captain of the boat said there were too many, but the smugglers wouldn't listen. After ten hours, the motor broke. We had no food or water. We drifted for five days. The battery ran out on our Thuraya [satellite phone]. We were waiting to die.
On the fifth day, a coast guard boat from Malta came. It gave us some water. An old woman said, "I will see my son in Malta." The boat nearly capsized because people stood up to get the water. Another Maltese boat came, a command ship, and took photos of us. The Maltese boat brought a rope. They tied it to our boat and towed us. After two hours as the sun was going down the Maltese boat changed direction and took us to Libya. We saw we were going in the wrong direction. Everyone said, "Please, no." We pleaded with the Maltese. The Maltese just waved their hands to say no.
We saw a green banner of Libya on a fishing boat. The Maltese gave them the rope. Everyone was crying. Water was coming inside the boat. There were high waves. Our boat was tipping. For 20 minutes it looked like it really was capsizing. Then the Maltese cut the rope and they were gone. The fishing boat took us to Libya.
We were really tired and dehydrated when we arrived in Libya. I thought, "If they beat me, I won't feel a thing." When we arrived, there were no doctors, nothing to help, just military police. They started punching us. They said, "You think you want to go to Italy." They were mocking us. We were thirsty and they were hitting us with sticks and kicking us. For about one hour they beat everyone who was on the boat. Then they put us in a closed truck with only two little windows, not enough air to breathe. There was no food or water on the truck. It was 40 degrees Centigrade outside but it felt like 80 degrees inside the truck. I thought we would all die inside the truck, but somehow we all survived. They first took us to Al Fellah Prison, but it was full, so they took us to Misrata Prison.
When we arrived at Misrata, they opened the doors of the truck. As soon as the doors opened, the guards were waiting and they started beating us right away. They beat us with sticks to get us out of the truck.
We were treated badly at Misrata. We were Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and a few Somalis. The rooms were not clean. We were only given a half hour a day to take air outside and the only reason they let us out at all was to count us. We sat in the sun. Anyone who spoke would be hit. I was beaten with a black plastic hose.
There was no UNHCR. No one came to see us. Even the police never questioned us. They never talked to us. They never told us anything. There was another room for women and children. Every night the guards took women for their pleasure. I met one pregnant woman who was ready to give birth. She gave birth there in the prison with us.
After three months [of detention at Misrata], the Libyans brought a truck and said they would take us back to our home countries. I said I was Sudanese. The truck took us to Kufra. It was overcrowded with 200 people and there was no air. It was very hot inside the truck. It was made of metal. If we had to urinate or defecate we had to do it in the truck where we stood. When the truck stopped, the drivers wouldn't let us out. We arrived in Kufra. It was a very bad prison. I had a cross on my neck, which they ripped off. We had to line up with our faces against a wall. They hit us with a stick.
They didn't take our names or fingerprints. They just herded 78 of us into one small room. There were maybe eight rooms like this. The room had no beds, and just one toilet right in the room itself, and it didn't work. There were no windows. We couldn't breathe. It was very dirty. There was no soap, no water, no chance to bathe. We slept on the floor body to body. There was no space. If I lifted my leg, another person would fill the space. For food, they gave us a handful of rice for seven people. Just rice and a little water.
If you made noise, the police would hit you with a metal stick. They would beat you everywhere. Some people had their arms broken and the guards did not take them to the hospital.
There was no doctor. At one point I felt very sick; I had a fever. The people started hitting the door to get the attention of the guards because I was very sick. The guards took me outside. The camp manager came and said, "Take him and throw him in the desert."
A policeman took me, but he took pity on me and took me to the hospital instead. He bought medicine with his own money and they gave me an injection. He asked permission to let me sleep outside. Finally, when I got better, the police let me inside.
Every two or three days, the manager of Kufra camp took 25 or 30 persons at night and sold them to Libyan transporters so he could get money from us. Other people were just thrown in the desert. Sometimes they would take people in the desert and run over their legs with a car and just leave them. He sold me with a group of 25 or 30 people to a Libyan man who put us in a big house in Kufra and told us we needed to have our families send $200 to pay for our release from Kufra and to take us to Benghazi. It was too much, too much desert and some people lost hope after three, four, or five tries. I heard that a lot of people killed themselves.
I had no money, but I worked for the smugglers and they took me back Benghazi and this time I traveled by myself to Tripoli. Life in Tripoli was hard. Even the Libyan children throw stones at black people. They ask for money. The police would not protect us. I was living in a house in the city. The police came to the house. They searched the house and asked for money. They took our money and said if we told anyone that they would send us to prison.
I took another boat but the driver did not know how to steer it. We were four days at sea. I was only one week out of prison. I had no shoes. I was afraid and losing hope again. A big ship came and we called for help in all languages. They stopped and took photographs of us and then told us with a megaphone to go away. Our boat was taking in water; it was not holding up. The engine of the huge ship made a big wave that almost tipped us over.
Later an Italian coast guard boat and navy boat came. They put a net over the side and took us one by one. There were no smiles. It was military. They searched us, asked us who was the captain of the boat. They divided us in two groups, taking one to Siracusa and one to Trapani. I was taken to a small camp in Trapani. I made an interview there and they gave me one year of humanitarian status.