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.
At her school in Nigeria, Vera and her brother were being threatened by gangsters. The situation became dangerous, and her mother was very worried about her security. Vera felt she had no other option than to flee from the country. She contacted a smuggler who would take her to Europe via Libya. She was surprised when the woman frankly suggested that she could earn money both in Libya and in Europe as a prostitute. Vera said she would not do such a thing, and the woman did not press the issue. When they arrived in Libya, she called her and told her that now, she must work as a prostitute to pay her debt.
My name is Vera, I’m 22 years old. I’m from Edo state, Nigeria. I went from Nigeria to Libya and from Libya I crossed the sea to Europe. This is my story.
My situation was bad before I left Nigeria. I had issues with some cultists in my school. There were even trying to get my brother to join them, so my mother was so scared. Due to the situation, I felt Nigeria wasn’t the place for me.
So I met a woman who takes girls to Libya. She said I’d work there and pay her the money back. She said the work would be prostitution. I said I wouldn’t do that. She accepted that. Then I went to Libya. That was my first time in Libya. I’d never heard of Libya before, but the woman took me there.
The journey was very bad. From Benin City to Abuja, then to Kano, then from Kano to Zinder (Niger) and to Agadez. It was a bad journey, very risky. Some people in the pickup truck fainted because of the sun. We had no good food. We were risking our lives. As we reached (the border) some soldiers were taking money and they took even the little money we had on us. That’s how we got to Libya.
When I left Nigeria I told the woman I wasn’t going to do prostitution. She said okay, but when I reached Libya she called me and said I still had to do it. I said I wasn’t going to do this prostitution. So she abandoned me in a compound in Libya. I was there for two months with three other girls that the woman had brought there. So we were left there in the compound. The man who owned the place needed money so he decided to sell us.
Luckily for me I had already told one Yoruba guy that I didn’t want to do prostitution. I’d been told that you could work as a housemaid in Libya, so I asked him to let me do that. That’s how God made it happen. They took me to Tripoli to be a housemaid. In the place I served, they were not nice people. They saw us as animals. They did not value us, only themselves. I was patient so I could make money to get where I am today.
The woman was always making problems. I would wake up at 5am and go to sleep at midnight or at 1am. I cried every day because it was too much compared to what I had expected.
When I was in Libya, and after I left that compound, a taxi driver kidnapped me. I spent six months inside a room. At the place where we were being held, they were beating women all the time. They told us to call and get money. They were maltreating us; we didn’t get food at all or sometimes maybe only once a day. They beat us with canes. They told us to call for money, but we kept telling them we didn’t have money. For six months we kept promising to bring money. We didn’t go outside; we didn’t know if it was daytime or sunny. We were just in that room. We would beg to wash ourselves. Sometimes we could do it, sometimes we were told there was no water. Sometimes we didn’t get food.
I cried so much that I ran out of tears. I was bailed out of there by a person but then I had to work to pay him back. After I paid him off, I had to work and make some money for myself. I used the little money I made to pay my way to Europe. The worst thing which made me decide to cross was the fighting. There was fighting every day they were shooting everywhere.
My mother was so scared and told me, my child, leave that place and be quick! So I left from there. Before I left Libya, people told me they had contacts with people who help with the crossing. I told those friends that I wanted to cross too. I didn’t know anything about how to leave. But one day the opportunity came.
They asked me if I had money. I didn’t have any money because of my bad situation, so they helped me. Before I knew it, I was at the place from where the boats leave.
Before I boarded, people told me that some boats had burst and some had sunk. That made me afraid but then I thought about how it was in Nigeria and why I had left. Even in Libya I had no rest of mind, it was impossible to move around freely. I was afraid even in taxis. So, I just summoned up my courage and asked God for protection. That sea trip was as I expected. Water got into the boat and I was afraid. Even now when I remember it, I think about how close we were to losing our lives. The boat was riding the waves like this. Everybody in the boat was screaming. I think of that even now and I just thank God that I didn’t die like that without anybody even knowing where. It's just like committing suicide.
I didn’t expect the rout to be like that, not even when we had started. What if, by mistake, the boat capsized, who would rescue me? I don’t even know how to swim, I’d just die. I still think about it.
I was told it was simple and easy and I'd arrived within a week. I never knew it was this hard. I know it’s not easy to tell people not to go because they would say, you already got there and now you don’t want me to come? You don’t want me to make progress! But they don’t know how risky it is. But as for me, I would never allow any of my relatives or anyone I know to take this journey.
Original Narrative can be found at https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/pcm/stories/video/veras-story/