There is an estimated 48,000 people living in modern slavery in Libya (GSI 2018). Libya is a major transit destination for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by sea. Human trafficking networks have prospered amid lawlessness, created by the warring militias that have been fighting for control of territories since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Highly organized trafficking and migrants smuggling networks that reach into Libya from Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and other sub-Saharan states subject migrants to forced labor and forced prostitution through fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, debt bondage, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. In some cases, migrants reportedly pay smuggling fees to reach Tripoli, but once they cross the Libyan border they are sometimes abandoned in southern cities or the desert where they are susceptible to severe forms of abuse and human trafficking.
Abdirahman was training to become a photographer in his hometown Hargeisa, Somalia when he started receiving pictures and messages from friends who had travelled irregularly to Europe. They were bragging about how life in Europe was wonderful and easy and Abdirahman felt an urge to go there himself. He and some friends decided to try their luck and contacted a smuggler. They had been promised the journey would be fast and easy. Already the first leg, across the sea to Yemen and from there to Sudan, brought a sharp reality check. Many fellow passengers died on the overloaded boat which had a capacity of 50 passengers but had 200 on board.
On the second sea journey to Sudan the ship got lost and they ran out of food. When they finally reached the Sudanese shore, they were handed over to ruthless smugglers. They were put on buses and started a long drive through a hot desert with no food and only water mixed with petrol to drink, to prevent them feeling hungry. In Libya, their party was attacked by bandits, and they were taken to a traffickers’ camp where they were brutally beaten to force their families to pay ransom. When the ransom money had been paid, the camp was attacked by a rival gang and Abdirahman was kidnapped once again. At last, he managed to flee his tormentors and was rescued by police. He was put into detention and eventually offered repatriation, which he gratefully accepted.
I was living a happy life. Being a cameraman was my dream. I would take pictures and videotape weddings. My mother, whom I love more than anybody else, did everything she could for me. I was the youngest son. I used to get everything I wanted. She always stood by my side. She is the only one I can tell everything to. She is the one I ask for advice.
One day I had the idea of travelling with smugglers. Some friends of mine had travelled with smugglers. They would always post pictures on Facebook and their life had changed a lot. We thought they had a better life than here. They told us they had a nice life over there. We loved the idea of sharing that life with them. We encouraged each other to try to get there somehow.
When we met in cafes, we talked about ways to get out of Hargeisa city. That’s what made me forget my sweet life, forget my beloved mother, also forget my beloved family. That's why I left. I felt my mother would be shocked if she was told her son was lost not knowing if he was dead or alive. No parents want their son to go on that dangerous road and on top of that, support him to do it. The reason I didn’t tell them is that no one would have allowed me to go.
When I hid my plans from my mother, I had mixed feelings because I didn’t know if I would return safely. I didn’t know if I would arrive at my destination dead or alive. We left Hargeisa at 8am. There were ten of us. We didn’t sleep that night. We called the smuggler who was waiting for us at Bosasso. We were taken at midnight. The boat we were going to take was small. It was a short-distance fishing boat. They'd arranged a small boat you couldn’t even force 50 people in to carry 200 Somalis all the way to Yemen.
It was the first time I’d travelled on a boat. I was very afraid. I asked myself if I would survive and arrived safely. My friends also had the same fear. People were sitting in a way that no one could move. You couldn’t even raise your hand. A man standing in the middle would hit you with the butt of the gun if you moved. After one hour, everyone felt out of breath. We were thirsty. There was a covered space on the lower deck where the Oromos were put. It was meant for storing goods. The people in that place all idea of suffocation after one hour of travelling.
When we were close to the shore everyone was thrown out of the boat. The crew feared the Yemeni government would catch them. Therefore, when we were close to shore people were thrown into the sea. Some of us who couldn’t swim were taken by the waves. Of the 60 Somalis on board, 7 managed to get ashore. I don’t know if the rest of them are dead or alive. We were approached by Yemenis. They fired over us. We sat down, we went down and started screaming. We were saved and we left.
We walked for four hours. Then we came to a village. Many smugglers’ cars were there. You would go with the smuggler of your choice. We travelled in Yemen for three days. We went to a region of Yemen close to the sea. There was a smugglers’ camp. We stayed in tents in a remote area.
We stayed in Yemen for two months. The conditions in Yemen were difficult, it’s a mountainous land and it’s very hot. One night we were told that we were going to travel. We got ready for the journey. Some people wanted to return and end their journey there. But they were not allowed to because the return trip cost money and they couldn’t afford to pay. We were in another country without knowing where to go. So, we weren’t able to go back. We had to continue our journey. We believed this was the last journey that would take us to Europe.
We were told the journey (Yemen to Sudan) would take one day and six hours. It took us six days. The sea got rough. We were very afraid. We asked ourselves if we were going to live and die. The skipper started praying even though he was ready to face the risk. I loved life very much, I wanted to reach my destination in one piece. We were given only little food. The first day we ate all the food on the boat. We had five more days left.
On the fifth night we lost our compass. We lost our direction and didn’t know where we came from and where we were going. We didn’t have any food or water. Everyone felt down. On the sixth night we came to Sudan at 7 pm. We were put on three buses. They forced us on the buses with beatings and kicks. If anyone spoke, he would be beaten with a stick or a bat. 60 people were loaded onto that vehicle. There were barrels of water in the car. The water was mixed with petrol. When you drink water mixed with petrol you become swollen. You'll no longer need food or water. That's why they mix water with petrol.
We entered an empty desert. When we saw the desert, we were terrified and heartbroken. Many people died in the desert. Their bodies were left behind. They died of hunger and torture. After we had been handed over to Libyans, we were attacked by robbers with three armed vehicles. Bullets started flying. Our smugglers were overpowered. The attackers took us. They kept us in a house for three days and gave us some food. Then they sold us to a Libyan man (trafficker). We were taken to his camp.
In that camp, 5,000 people including Oromos and Somalis were kept. Everyone was asked to pay USD 8,250. Everyone was told to contact their families. They were made to say to their families they had a broken leg from being shot at. We should only give bad news. We were told we would be killed if we didn't obey. It was hard for me to tell my mother my leg was broken, or I was shot. I insisted on saying to her that I'm safe but only that I’m captured and suffering. So, with the back of the gun, they were beating me until I fainted. When it was time for the money to arrive, we were attacked by robbers at night. The ground was shaking from the weapons. We were very afraid. Both sides exchanged fire with heavy weapons. Our smugglers were overpowered. The robbers entered the camp. They held us for a month in the desert. We didn’t have any food. They demanded USD 8,000. They started torturing us.
In the morning they asked for money. We refused to pay any more and were tortured again. Then I crawled to the back of the house. No one was there. That’s how I escaped. I went to the city crawling. Close to the city I saw my companions who escaped some hours before me. I went and sneaked around with them. They supported me by the shoulder to keep walking. An army car arrived. The car took us to a police station. After that we were handed over to the UN. I loved my country but at the same time I wanted to continue my journey. I realised I wouldn’t reach there (Europe) alive.
When I returned, the love of my family made me forget all my sorrows. They were very happy, especially my mother. She started a new life once I returned. She’s happy again. Now I have a multimedia business studio where I work. I’m happy with that and wish to expand my work. There are many young people thinking about smuggling. I would tell these youths to use me as an example. To take those before them as examples and to take those that are still captured as an example. I would say to those planning to travel with smugglers that you are only going to your death. (You would only do this) if you want to be killed and hate yourself. Your family would feel better if you were buried near them.
Original Narrative can be found at https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/en/stories/video/abdirahman-hashis-story/