On February 2017, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published a comprehensive and startling report that detailed “the extreme risks facing [African] refugee and migrant children as they make the perilous journey from Sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Italy.” A journey fraught with sexual assault, abuse, exploitation, and death; the horrors of which prompted Justin Forsyth, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, to offer this dark assessment:
“The smugglers exist because they supply a service that desperate people can’t legally obtain. They care about nothing other than the blood money they are extracting from tens of thousands of women and children and think nothing of sending children to their deaths crossing the Sahara or the Mediterranean Sea.”
The exposé of the migrant situation was horrifying enough, and, yet, its ugly head remained in the sand.
Not until April 2017, when the International Organization for Migration (IOM) “learn[ed] of ‘Slave Market’ Conditions Endangering Migrants in North Africa” through the eyes of a Senegalese migrant and others, as revealed in a deeply unsettling press release. Apparently, not only was the migrant situation steeped in extremely cruel conditions, but it also harboured an outrageous re-enactment of the Slave Trade—and this time—one where Africans traded Africans.
The chief IOM spokesman in Geneva, Leonard Doyle, drove home the grave reality; “Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them. There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”
“To get the message out across Africa about the dangers,” Doyle added, “we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio.” The news would still take some time to reach the mainstream media. An entire year, that is.
For a development of such magnitude that seems to have begun trickling in at the beginning of the year, it is only now drawing maximal attention at the year’s end due, in part, to a video released by CNN in mid-November purporting to show migrants being auctioned for slavery in Libya.
The world’s attention was had!
From Libya itself to the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU), to the United Nations (UN), the powers that be, now woke to the crisis. They could no longer remain blind to it. When the aftermath of the slave trade in Libya leapt from the protest field to the football field, it was an indication that the situation was prime to seep into the general consciousness.
Everyone else now paid attention.
This included Ghanaians, a number of whom were reported to have been in the mix of the crisis. And just as swiftly as the reports came, the end of November saw the orchestrated return of 127 Ghanaians from Libya.
Doyle, quoted above, observed that “tragically the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalized and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.” Thus, with the return of the Ghanaians from the Libya situation came a fine opportunity to engage these “credible messengers.”
Now we can know what really happened.
A Ghanaian Returnee Tells His Story
Solomon (left) reunites with his uncle
This is Solomon.
Solomon Yawson was among the famed 127 Ghanaians that returned to Ghana from Libya on November 29, 2017. At age 27, Solomon’s keen demeanour, arguably, embodies a significant number of young Ghanaian men seeking the idealistic ‘greener pastures’ of the western world through non-legal means. For Solomon, that dream would set him on a course from Sekondi-Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana, through Libya, to Italy, and from there to wherever in Europe—at least that was the plan.
Needless to say, it wasn’t to be! Everything went downhill in Libya. Speaking to siro360, Solomon, who spoke fluent Fante, describes some of his ordeals from Ghana to Libya and back again.
“I was alright and felt really fine working in Ghana. I, however, yearned for Europe but, I didn’t have enough money. So, I had to use the Libya route.”
And that’s how Solomon’s story began. But, he was not alone.
Travelling by land as illegal immigrants meant that Solomon and his co-travelers would be transported in very inhumane and life-threatening ways to avoid detection and legal repercussions.
“They have these big articulators there to transport tens of thousands of people from different places. The articulators were about seven, and the people in charge actually packed human beings into them. Even as we were going, the booth of the articulator opened and about three people fell from it. One died. One’s head got burst, and the skin of the other peeled off. The one that died was put in a different articulator.”
And just like that, the journey continued without ceremony.
One ill event led to another and before Solomon could say ‘Italy’, he found himself in detention prisons where things got worse.
“The prison and other places we went to were very difficult. The one place I went to where I was very hurt was at Trig al Matar. We were told it was a deportation camp, but people really suffered there. We slept there for almost two months without bathing. We didn’t take a bath until we returned. You should see where people were sleeping and going to the toilet in the same room, and that is also where we eat, urinate, and do just about everything. It was very difficult there.”
Things got even more gruesome.
“When some of the officials come in, the Nigerians will put their hands in the toilet and grab it toward them in protest. I am not exaggerating.”
As horrifying as this sounds, men were not the only victims.
“There were lots of children. Some are about six years, seven years, and ten years. All of them were mixed with us. They were mostly Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans and a lot of little children from other African countries.”
An experience like this is bound to leave a definite stamp on the human mind; one ripe with regrets and lessons.
“I thank God I have arrived home safely. What I have to say to my brothers and sisters who have decided to go to Libya is please do not go because it’s not a place for human beings. . . It is bad. It is not easy in Libya.”
Knowing this, how exactly do you feel? Do you feel outraged? Disgusted?
Hear more of what Solomon had to say in the video interview above.
credit: Richard Yaw Baafi