Three Mediterranean boat migrants describe their gruelling quests for better lives

Hayat*, 25 years old, Eritrea

Rescued on 3 May by the MY Phoenix, from a wooden fishing boat carrying 369 people, he is missing his left leg following a gun shot wound

I cannot work in Eritrea. The government does nothing to help people with disabilities. I lost my leg because Eritrean soldiers shot me and I couldn’t get any medical attention for one week. A doctor came to see me but it was too late – I had gangrene and they had to cut my leg.

I spent two months in the hospital and then I went back home but I couldn’t find work.  So, I went to Sudan where I spent four months, for one of those months the Sudanese police put me in jail for no reason. They told me that if I wanted to get out of jail I had to pay $2,000, so I paid and they took me to the Libyan border.

Libya is not good. I arrived there with 75 other people in a bus from Sudan and armed men, maybe soldiers but I’m not sure, took us. There was no food, they gave us only one piece of bread per day. We spent two months there. People in Libya are very bad, there is no law and every person you meet hits you. Libya is such hardship. In Libya, I was asked to pay other $2,000 to be put on a boat to Europe.

Now that I have been rescued I feel safer and more comfortable than I did in months. In the small boat we couldn’t move at all but here [on the MY Phoenix] we have space and food. I hope that in Europe I will be able to find a job despite my limp. I want healthcare and work.

*Name changed


Abdu, 34 years old, Gambia

Rescued on 14 May by the MY Phoenix from a wooden fishing boat carrying 561 people

My name is Abdu. I am 34 years old and I am from Gambia. The journey to Libya took me five and a half months, during which time I passed through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria. I left Gambia because I needed money to support my family. There’s no work in Gambia.

Before getting to Libya, I stopped a little while in Algeria to work and gather a bit of money. There the situation is better than in Libya: you can work, make some money and if you have your documents nobody puts in prison without reason. But my brother was in Libya and I wanted to find him to travel to Europe together, so I went there.

In Libya there are a lot of bandits that attack you and steal everything you have. They harass you, beat you and can even kill you. There’s no freedom in Libya. You can’t walk or go where you want. Often people that pretend to be police or army, but are neither, kidnap you and try to extort money from you to let you go. If you have no money they beat you or kill you.

I have been kidnapped several times in Libya. One time, for example, while I was going to meet a friend of mine who had just arrived in Libya, some people pulled me into a car. They drove for a long time and took everything I had with me. I asked them to let me go because I had nothing else and they abandoned me in the desert. I was lucky that some other people were passing by and helped me to get back to the city.

When you arrive in Libya it is easy to get in contact with many people just like me that left their country to look for a better future. They helped me find my brother and we started living together. My brother is younger and I am responsible for him. That’s why every time we needed to go out to get something I left him at home, for his security.

And that’s how I got kidnapped several times. I was imprisoned in houses; they were never real prisons or camps. These houses are full of armed men and women - everybody has guns and knives, even young kids. They take your money and they beat you up. Every day they would ask me for money and every day they would beat me. If you have no money your life doesn’t have value for them. If you are lucky you know people that will pay for you - I was lucky.

It met smugglers through my friends. They told me that if I had some money on the side they could put me in contact with people organising boats to Europe. I said yes and decided to try my luck at sea. I paid $1,700 and decided on a date of departure. The date was postponed 2 times because of bad weather. One day, three weeks after, they called me and confirmed that we would leave that night and we did. The smugglers are very hard with people. I was lucky because I had a place to stay until they called me. But there are many people that are put in warehouses while they wait for the departure.

The journey on the boat is a question of life and death. You’re on a small boat without any safety measures and with so many other people. I was very aware that I could have easily died at sea but I told myself that I had to leave, I had no choice. I thought, if God allows me to live, it means I have a purpose - it is destiny.

We go away from our country because we have no choice. We need to earn money for our families. We don’t want to get the Europeans tired of us, to overwhelm them, but we have no choice. We risk our lives to help our families, or neighbours, our friends, our parents and our brothers. That’s why we embark on this journey.

Now that I have been saved I believe more in God and I think about my family and future. The first thought I had when I saw the boat that saved me was to my family and to God.

Sandra, Nigeria

Rescued on 13 May by the MY Phoenix from an inflatable boat carrying 92 people, she was the only woman and about 8 months pregnant

I decided to leave Nigeria because I my husband works in Libya and I wanted to take care of him. Staying in Libya is not easy, the fight is too much. You don’t sleep at night and people bust into your house, steal your possessions and rape your wife - they do horrible things. You can work but they will burst into your house and collect everything you worked for. It is not safe for we Nigerians, they kill many of us.

Due to my pregnancy it is very risky to travel by boat but I can’t go back to Nigeria either. So my husband’s brother came from Nigeria to accompany me to Italy and wait for my husband to follow. I said to my husband that if I have to go alone to Europe that I won’t go, that’s why his brother came to watch me until my husband comes and meets me. I’m not feeling well so I need somebody to stay with me. I was the only woman in the boat we came with, it is risky for women to travel but they do what they do because they are not safe where they are. We take the risk of entering into this water and going to Europe to look for a better life. We believe Europe is better than Libya. I hope my baby will have a better life but I know it’s going to be hard.