There was a wave of international horror and condemnation after the American media CNN published a video on November 14, 2017, showing a slave auction in Libya. A Guinean man told his witness account to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. In part 2, he describes his own hellish experience at the hands of traffickers in 2016.
After CNN’s report was published, the FRANCE 24 Observers team received a number of messages from people saying that they had been victims of human trafficking. The Observer we spoke to for this article gave us a detailed account of his experience, and we were able to corroborate what he said with the accounts of other people along the same route.
Click here to read part 1.
"I decided to escape from the prison. I wanted to take this crazy risk. One day I managed to steal the guard’s mobile phone and I called someone I knew in the town and told him to meet me. It would have been too dangerous to try to get out by myself. In the town, there are no black people just walking around – we could be kidnapped or killed at any moment. [Those who do manage to escape are usually safe in humanitarian refuges and never go out in public]."
A group of migrants who escaped from illegal prisons in Bani Walid.
"I managed to get out and meet up with the person I knew. He let me stay at his, and I owe him my life. This man was also a migrant who had been imprisoned before. He sheltered two other migrants like me, who had also been tortured. One of them had been hit so hard that he hadn’t been able to walk for a whole week."
"My family immediately sent me money : 1 million Guinean francs [€93]. I told them that I wanted to carry on trying to get to Europe, but they wouldn’t let me and told me to come back to Guinea. They promised me that they would help me to get to Europe to study through a more legal route. So I took 600 dinars [€372] from my family to pay for a driver to Sebha, in the south-east of Libya. I was very scared of getting kidnapped again."
"Once in Sebha, the driver dropped me off at a centre for illegal migrants. I was scammed while I was there. A well-dressed Guinean man came over, offering his services for legal repatriation via the IOM [the International Organisation for Migrants]. To get all of my documents in order, he asked me for 50 Libyan dinars [€30] so that I could get ID photos. Then he wouldn’t stop repeating that I just had to wait for an available seat in the plane."
In Sebah, our Observer spent the equivalent of €30 for these ID photos.
"I was fed up. I went to the bus station with another migrant and I paid him 150 dinars [€90] to get me a bus ticket to go to Qatrun, further south, when actually it should only cost 50 dinars [€30].
"In Qatrun, I went into another centre for migrants, where there were lots of women who were forced to turn to prostitution. When they arrived, they were put in containers in the courtyard. If a girl refused to prostitute herself, the guards would lock her up in a room with five or six of them inside, and keep her there for a few days, without water or food, and then she would be forced to do it afterwards. If they weren’t productive enough, the guards would put the veil on them and then sell them to an Arabic man."
"The next day, a driver came to do the next step of the route, to Agadez, in Niger. On the road, we passed lots of vehicles full of migrants going in the opposite direction, towards Libya. Some of them begged us for water, or they asked us why we were turning back, and when we told them they cried."
Our Observer spent around 400 dinars [€247] to cross the Libyan desert with this driver. This is the WhatsApp profile photo of the smuggler, sent to us by our Observer, where he poses with stacks of Libyan dinars.
"In Agadez, I met a migrant who took me back to his. He ran a sort of migrant centre for Guineans waiting to go to Libya. I started to tell them my story, but the manager made me stop because he didn’t want me to discourage them.
I didn’t have anything on me, not even a telephone. I had spent all of my money on the journey. This man also tried to scam me, but I managed to get out of it thanks to friends I had met at the bus station. These friends also had wanted to go to Libya, but due to my warnings they had changed their minds and were going to go via Algeria. Then I took the bus to Niamey, the capital of Niger.
In the bus, I was really stressed because I didn’t have any ID documents on me. Between Niamey and Conakry, at each border crossing, I explained my whole story, showed my scars and the border officials ended up believing me and letting me go across."
"On August 29, 2016, I finally got to my village in Guinea, at around 9 o’clock in the morning. When I got home, my whole family cried and thanked God for letting me live.
But ever since then, I’ve insisted that I’m going to try again, but by safer routes, like through Morocco. They won’t hear it, and say that I can only do it through legal means. So I’ve taken up my undergraduate degree in law in Conakry again, but without much enthusiasm.
At the moment, I’m trying to find a way of going to study in Europe. Here, Guinean degrees are useless. If we want to find a good job with decent money, we have to go and study in Europe. I’m the oldest child in the family; I have to worry about looking after everyone else."
In 2016, more than 5,000 migrants died trying to get across the Mediterranean. But there are no statistics or estimated figures on how many have died in the desert.