It is already 9 pm when I get to the apartment which Ivorian Adama shares with three other immigrants. He was rescued by Tunisian fishermen in 2011 near the Southern town of Zarzis, and has been living there since, assisted by the staff of the humanitarian organization Tunisian Red Crescent (TRC).
“Sometimes, when I close my eyes in the dark, panic overwhelms me. I feel afraid as if I were still in that farm in Libya, as if I were still living in conflict. [Libya] is pure hell. The fear of being killed makes it difficult to sleep, and you thank God when you wake up still alive”, Adama tells me in the house corridor. As I listen to him, I feel he is battling between the discomfort of having to recall a painful past and the need to share his personal tragedy.
He survived two traumatic journeys: The first took him from Cote d’Ivoire- which he fled because of civil war- to Nigeria, and finally to Tripoli in 2011; the second saw him smuggled from the Libyan town of Sabha on a dinghy carrying 81 other people from Africa and Bangladesh and directed to Italy. He fled his country in search of a safer life, thinking he could find it in Libya,
still relatively rich compared to other African countries. However, as the conflict started he was also forced to flee Libya.
“I could not trust anyone there. Soon after my arrival, I started fearing for my life. They are carrying a war without rules, it’s total anarchy. Maybe you will get shot shopping, or on your way to work, or in your home even. I left Cote d’Ivoire because I didn’t feel safe, but Tripoli was much worse than home”.
He knew of other immigrants like him who had paid Libyan smugglers for the journey, so he began looking for them.
It was a local taxi driver he became friend with to explain what he needed to do in
order to reach Europe. He gave Adame a mobile number to call.
One week later, 1,200 Libyan dinars ready in an envelope, Adama left Tripoli with other migrants on a vehicle driven by two smugglers. The smugglers brought them to an isolated farm, and kept them there for about a month before the boat journey. The dinghy left at 6 am and 23 hours later, 26 of them made it alive to Zarzis.
“I lost 6 of my friends in that journey.
I couldn’t save them because I cannot swim, and even if I could, I was too shocked to react. I though it was over for me too. After all those months, after the torture, the fear I went through, I was simply going to
disappear at sea”.
As he recounts those events, every inch of his body contracts interrupted by the sound of his nervous cough. His eyes keep staring at the floor, as if crossing mine would make it too difficult to go on with the story.
Adama has a normal life in Zarzis now, a daily job, a bicycle, friends. More importantly, he does not fear for his life anymore. He fights every day to forget what happened to him in Libya, trying to keep his mind as far as possible from torture, smuggling and the sea.
The other flatmates are also battling with a traumatic past. 17-year-old Bassur for instance was rescued and brought to Zarzis in March 2015. He was tortured by his smugglers, the marks of violence visible in his right hand and belly. He travelled with other migrants from Senegal through Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, finally reaching Tripoli. Direction: Europe.
“Once you decide to go, it’s easy to find smugglers. You only need to ask around and people will tell you what to do or who to contact. When I decided it was time to leave Libya, I found a group of smugglers but I did not have the money ready. They bit me up and told me I had to find the money quickly otherwise they would kill me. They spoke English and carried guns”.
“Zarzis is much better than Zuwara. I am safe and I met great people. The TRC saved us all, and they do a fantastic job everyday to keep us safe and happy. I will always be grateful to them. My dream is still to go to Europe, maybe Italy or Germany, and I will not stop trying. But I will only travel on good boats in the future, no more dinghies”- he says laughing in his kitchen.
Another housemate, Dousu from Burkina Faso spent two weeks locked up in a farm and abused by smugglers who then
forced him and others to take the journey to Europe. When I ask him how he feels he replies that he is young, and that when you are twenty years old you can survive a lot of things. He has a passion for football and wishes to become a popular footballer one day. This is why he left home in the first place, driven by a dream he is still trying to accomplish.