In July 2006, I went from Khartoum to Libya. We first went to the Sukh and from there to Kufra. We spent 21 days crossing the Sahara desert. There were 46 people in our group when we finished the journey.
The smugglers were drug addicts. They didn't bring spare parts for the vehicle. We were left stranded in the desert with no food or water. The original agreement was to pay them [US]$250 to go from Khartoum to Kufra. But in the middle of the desert, the Sudanese turned us over to the Libyans and they told us we had to pay another [US]$300 or they would abandon us in the Sahara before we reached Libya. About 75 percent of us were able to pay. We paid for the other 25 percent, so no one was left.
From Kufra, we had to pay another [US]$300 to go to Benghazi. They used force and threatened us with knives. They beat us, but caused no serious damage. The agreement was to take us directly, but they held us for two days in a house outside Kufra where they demanded the money and forced us to pay.
I think the smugglers were 100 percent connected to the police and the military. I saw the officers in uniform with stars on their shoulders talking to the transporters. And the drivers said, "There is no problem," when we saw the police or military. The smugglers also told us if we didn't pay them that we would go to prison.
We were able to protect everyone in the group. We would not allow them to separate the girls, and no one went to prison.
From Kufra we went to Bengazi to a place outside the city. We stayed there only one night, and left the next day for Tripoli. I spent the next year and a half in Tripoli.
I had no chance of a job in Tripoli. There is no civilization in Libya. I lived with friends. We were always afraid to walk on the street. People were always trying to take our money, and we had to run away from them. They smoke hashish and rob you. I had no problems with the police in Tripoli. I always ran away when I saw them.
I wear a crucifix here [in Rome]. I didn't wear it there. There was an Italian Roman Catholic church. I hid there sometimes. The church was in the middle of the city. There were always foreigners there, so they wouldn't do bad things to you in front of the foreigners. The church was safe.
I was not just sitting there all that time. I tried to leave Libya four times.
I first tried to leave in October 2006. We were a group of 108. The smugglers told us they had a good boat, but it was a small fishing boat and after we saw it, we said we would not sail on this. Once I saw that boat, I knew I would die if I went on it. They forced two people on the boat and the rest of us began fighting them. Many military men came and caught us at the boat.
The smugglers had an agreement with navy forces to take our money. They put us directly into the navy port office. The people who demanded money from us were wearing navy uniforms. They had an athletic build. They were clearly navy, not coast guard. I was close to navy [meaning: I can tell the difference.] A high-level naval officer spoke to us.
What surprises me is that the person who told us he would take us to Italy is the same person who arrested us. The ones who arrested us were in civilian clothes. Those who said they were going to take us were in uniforms. But they all arrested us together.
We tried to scatter. Two of our group escaped and ran away. But the others were caught and put in detention. I am one of those who went in detention.
The [Libyan] navy forces caught us and took us to a police station called Zanzur. From that police station, they took the six of us Christians to court, just the six of us, not the other 108. We couldn't understand what was said in court. They took us from there to a place called Jawazat. It was an immigration prison. It was near a place called Cremia Market [as heard]. This is a deportation camp where Egyptians are taken. I was held there for two months. It was the 10th month of the year, Ramadan, and I was one of six Christians. They said they would treat us differently, but actually they wouldn't give us any food during the day either, only in the evening, so we were fasting against our will.
We were in the same room with 160 others - all in one room. It was like a parking garage with only small holes for windows at the top. We had to urinate in plastic bottles to throw away in the evening. We were only allowed to use the toilet once a day. Many people had skin problems. There was no soap. They gave us water in a jar to drink. Many of us had stomach problems. We had to beg the guards to take sick people to the toilet.
The guards were cruel. They were drug addicts. We watched them smoking hashish every day. They would joke, "Where are the Christians who are not fasting?" (It was Ramadan.) You could see how they would separate and speak to us that they did not like Christians.
One day, we were singing songs. The guards came and said, "Who is making this noise?" The others said, "The Christians." They took out the six of us and beat us. They beat the bottom of our feet with a wooden stick. They hit the soles of both of our feet for 5 to 10 minutes. Two guards put a wood plank under our legs. They then tied our legs to the wood. We fell down on our backs, and then they beat our feet. They did this to all six of us. They just beat our feet. They know if you are beaten that you are unable to walk afterwards, but they made us run around the courtyard after beating our feet. This took place at midnight. The manager of the camp was not there when this happened, but all of the guards knew what was happening.
I'm okay now. There was no permanent damage, but the prison was very severe for me. It goes to your identity of who you are. They see you as inferior and you feel inferior to them, physically and spiritually.
After two months, they put us with another group of Eritreans - 150 people in all. They put us in a big truck packed with people. There wasn't room for anyone to sit down. We all remained standing. The only air was from some open holes in the roof of the truck; otherwise it was completely closed. The truck drove us from Tripoli to Kufra. We started at 6 a.m. and traveled all day and all the next night. The truck was closed the entire trip. There were cracks in the floor, and people urinated on the floor. My eyes were in pain from the smell.
There were also some girls on the truck. It was not only bad for the girls; it was also very hard for the men. We begged for air. The truck would stop for the drivers to take a break and eat, but they would not open the door for us. They were afraid we would run away. The worst was when we arrived in Kufra. At least the air circulated when we were moving. In Kufra, we stopped for two hours in 45-degree [centigrade] weather and we could hardly breathe. The truck was made of metal. They kept us in there for two hours as punishment because we were shouting during the journey. God is great; we all survived.
When they let us out of the truck, we were in Kufra prison. We spent one week there. They fed us food only once a day. Only rice. Ramadan was over. I had already experienced two months of hunger in prison. We were now 800 prisoners crowded in different rooms. We slept on pieces of cardboard. There were no mattresses. It was dirty. The guards had no communication with us. They just opened and closed the doors.
Kufra is the border place for deportation. They just let you go from there because there is no other place to go. There are always three nationalities there: Sudanese, Eritreans, and Ethiopians. They cast you back to your country at Kufra. They don't actually take you to the border, they just let you go.
But the smugglers have an agreement with the prison commander. When they let us go, we are ready for market. The drivers wait for us outside the Kufra prison and make deals to take us to Tripoli. The drivers say that they have paid money to get us out of prison. They then take us out of the city to a place in the open bush.
The drivers told us we had to pay them money since they had paid to get us released from prison. We had either to pay the 40 dinar bribe to get us out of prison or [US]$400 to get to Tripoli. The only way to do that is to call your family to have them send money. My family sent money and I went back to Tripoli.
My second attempt to leave Libya also failed. The police saw a lot of people gathering to go to sea. I was arrested again and was sent to Al-Fellah Prison in November 2006. They sent 200 people to the prison that day. I was among all these people and pretended to fall unconscious. I did this on purpose. They took me alone in a car to be interrogated. I was interrogated all night, but at the end, they thought I was sick.
Sometimes they asked questions. Sometimes they punched me. That was the price I had to pay to show I was faint. They took me back to the house where I was arrested. All the other people arrested that day were taken to the Misrata. That was when Misrata started as a detention center. I made my third attempt to leave Libya in June 2007. We were gathered in Sabratha. Again, we were arrested before we even got on the boat. There were 60 of us. I had an anger I could not control. I didn't care whether they killed me or not; I just tried to escape.
At the doors of the prison, we all started running. About 32 people ran in all directions; 18 were caught. I was one of those who was caught. When they caught me, the commanders knew that I was the one leading the escape. I earned the punishment for all those who got away.
I was beaten by wood and metal sticks by three guards. They beat me for more than 10 minutes. They called me "nigger" as they beat me. When I fell to the ground, they kicked me. They beat me with a metal stick on my head. I have scars and pain inside my head. I still have pains in my shoulder. The metal sticks were thin, but they did not bend.
They beat me as soon as they caught me. Those of us who ran away, they tied up in a special way. For two days they kept us separated from the others. They splashed us with water. I could not walk from the pain in my groin. I was really afraid of internal bleeding in my head. We couldn't even think about seeing a doctor or a nurse.
I was held in Sabratha for two weeks. Sabratha held about 100 people. There were Eritreans, West Africans, Ethiopians. It was a very dirty place. We had to urinate in plastic bottles. Some of the people who beat me at the beginning were my guards for the next two weeks. They continued to treat me harshly. They continued to beat me up.
When the prison administrator was there, the treatment was better. They don't beat you up in front of the administrator. Of course, the guards take drugs. When they are high they feel much superior and treat us like dogs. That's when they physically kick us like dogs.
After two weeks in Sabratha, I decided to run away. I ran away with a group of people. I got away.
On my fourth attempt to leave Libya, I won the journey. We left out of Garabuli, Tripoli. There were 64 people on a Zodiac boat that is pumped full of air. When the Libyans pushed us to sea, they said that a Liberian guy was supposed to drive the boat, but Nigerians drove it to Italy. We traveled for 16 hours. The motor was stuck and the battery of the phone died, but before that happened we called the Italian coast guard. The next day, a helicopter came. When we started the journey, there were four Zodiac boats. Two were filled with Nigerians. When we got to Lampedusa, we learned that they were all lost at sea.
The Italian navy rescued us. They treated us very kindly. They brought us to Italy on October 4, 2007. They brought us to Lampedusa. We spent one week there. We had no problems. From there, I went to Caltanesetta. I was there for one month and 27 days. The only problem was that we had to pay money for documents. We had to make an official payment of €50. I applied for asylum. I was given humanitarian status. I didn't appeal. When they released me from Caltanesetta, they just left me in the middle of the street. I went to Rome.
Then I traveled to Sweden. I asked for asylum in Sweden. But the Swedes said that I had been in Italy. They had my fingerprints. They brought me back to Italy on a plane. The Italian police didn't do anything; they just took my fingerprints again. And now I'm living at via Romanina in Anagnina [a big squatters building where many Africans live illegally]. I have lived there the whole time.
I have no chance to work or study in Italy. Even to renew my [humanitarian status] documents takes many months. I have pain in my arms and bones. For me, in this life I have paid more than what I should pay.
I believe someone with a similar name as mine did some crime. Normally, when the police check my documents they immediately take me to the police station. Anytime the police see my name they arrest me like I am a big-time criminal. I spend a day in jail and then they check my fingerprints and release me.