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.
Shola was unhappy with her life in Nigeria. She wanted to study and get a job, but when she finished secondary school, her family expected her to marry, have children, and be a housewife. She decided to go to Europe to realize her plans. A woman promised to take her there, and she departed with a group of girls, taking the Libya route. Once in Libya, Shola and the other girls were told they would have to work before they crossed. They were forced into prostitution and were beaten if they refused. Shola and some others escaped from their sexual exploitation with the help of a man, but while living with him they were put to work in other people’s homes.
In Nigeria, it was difficult to make a living. Even to get an education wasn't easy. When children finish secondary school, they don’t continue studying. You must start working and get married. You’ll be given a husband to marry. That’s why I left.
So, when a woman came saying they take girls to Europe, I decided to leave. She said we’d be going to work in Europe. She didn’t tell us what kind of work. But we were eager to get out of Nigeria. We were eight, she took us all. From what she said, I expected it to take a month. She said it would take three weeks to reach Europe, maybe two weeks to reach Libya, and it would be easy to cross over.
We went from Nigeria to Libya. We were put on a bus from Kano to Agadez (Niger) where we spent a week. They said the road wasn’t clear. We were put in a room. We couldn't talk or do anything. There was no food, there was nothing. From Agadez, we got to the desert. We spent eight days in the desert. There was no water, there was nothing at all.
When we reached Libya, the woman said the road wasn’t clear, so we had to work a bit before crossing, before we cross (the sea). What work? She said connection work (prostitution). I started crying. Me and...me and my friend started to cry. We said we wouldn’t do connection work. They started to beat us, saying we must do it. That’s the scar on my face. They beat us and said we must do it. Then, we escaped.
Some of my friends and I managed to escape from there. We didn’t know anyone, but then we saw a man and asked him to help us. He said okay. That man helped us, he put us in his home. While we lived with this man, he put us to work in people’s homes. The room where they put me had no doors, nothing. I was afraid. Then I told the man who had helped me that I wanted to leave. I explained that the boys in the house were trying to take advantage of me. He said no problem, but I’d have to work for three more months before I could leave. I agreed.
When me and my friends had saved some money for the sea crossing, we were arrested and put in prison for six months.
They beat us, they said, if you don’t pay, you can’t leave. They beat us and told us to find someone who’d pay for us. It was the man that helped us to cross, who bailed us out of there. We spent three days at sea.
We were calling for rescue, but nobody came. If I’d known how the journey really was, I’d have learned a trade and started working on my own, instead of going through all this suffering.
Narrative source Telling the Real Story facilitated by UNHCR
Original Narrative can be found at https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/en/stories/video/sholas-story/