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Diasporian News of Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Source: BBC

Libya: Tough gateway to Europe

Libya's proximity to Italy means it has long been a destination for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa seeking a better life. But the journey overland to Libya and then onwards to Europe is costly and full of risks, as the BBC's Mohammed Adow found out.

Smuggling people is a big and lucrative business for the cartels in Libya which specialise in transporting Africans through the Sahara desert and then across the Mediterranean sea.

But it is also a very dangerous venture for the migrants from West Africa, and increasingly from places like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Survivors of the desert ordeal have harrowing tales of watching their friends die slowly of thirst and hunger after walking hundreds of miles in the scorching desert sun.

"I've drunk my own urine because there was no water," Suleikha Mohammed from Kenya told me in Tripoli.

And for those who succeed in crossing the Sahara, their problems are far from over.

They are greeted with animosity by some Libyans.

Ghanaian Michael Isaac came to seek employment in Libya and is hoping to save enough money to finally migrate to Italy.

Two years after he first arrived, the 20-year-old is far from achieving his dream.

The problems he has faced have made him totally change his perception of Libya.

"Libyans are very dangerous people. They look on us as monkeys. They treat us bad. They beat us up. I was chased by a car for sport," he said.

These experiences influence many migrants to attempt crossing the Mediterranean even at times of high winds when it is extremely dangerous to travel.

They find this a better option than having to return home via the Sahara desert.

However, many too have died in the course of the voyage through the Mediterranean sea.

The boats are often in poor shape and are overloaded.

The crew are generally inexperienced sailors, mostly drawn from the migrants themselves.

Despite the conditions, getting a ticket is not easy.

The desperate migrants often fall into the hands of unscrupulous middlemen who swindle them off their hard earned cash promising to put them on a boat to Italy.

Said Abdel Hamid from Ghana fell victim to the middlemen.

"I had $1,100, but the middleman ran away with all my money," he said.


The Libyan authorities have now started to take action against the human smugglers and the migrants.

The government has set out heavy punishments for both parties involved in the illegal trade.

Already many Africans are serving in Libyan prisons.

More than 400 Somalis are awaiting deportation after they were arrested by Libyan authorities while trying to illegally migrate into Italy.

Madey Mohammed, a Somali migrant has just been released from the Jansuur Prison in Libya where he served four months after his dream journey to Italy was foiled.

"I was arrested and taken to prison along with 30 other Somali migrants. Life in prison has been very hectic. I am not in a position to tell you how the conditions were as I fear for my life. I can only say we faced lots of problems while in hands of the Libyan authorities," he said.

But these harrowing tales still do not deter Said.

"If I die, I die. If I succeed, I succeed. But I don't want my brothers to suffer as I have done."