A migrant on board the Ocean Viking, June 29, 2020 | Photo: Flavio Gasperini/ SOS Mediterranee via Twitter
A migrant on board the Ocean Viking, June 29, 2020 | Photo: Flavio Gasperini/ SOS Mediterranee via Twitter

There are currently 118 rescued migrants on board the Ocean Viking ship in the Mediterranean, the majority of them hail from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea. Some of those on board spoke to AFP, telling them about their experiences of slavery in Libya.

It is unusual, writes the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), that so many Pakistanis decided to leave Libya and risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat. But their experiences in Libya pushed them to it, some of the survivors aboard the Ocean Viking told AFP. They claim they were enslaved in the country and tortured, ill-treated and kidnapped during their time there.

The Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were among 118 people rescued by the Ocean Viking, the private rescue ship run jointly by MSF (Doctors without Borders and SOS Mediteranée) in two separate operations on June 25.

Enslaved in Libya

The first group was rescued on the edge of the Italian search and rescue zone about 30 kilometers off Lampedusa, and the second in the Maltese one. According to AFP, those rescued had paid around $2,000 for a place on board the small wooden dinghy. The group were mainly from Eritrea and Pakistan, said the online site Dispatch Live.

Imran, from Pakistan was one of a group of 51 who were rescued not far from the Italian island of Lampedusa. He had been working as a bricklayer in Libya and is 30 years old. "For them [the Libyans] we are not human," Imran told AFP. "All the Pakistanis here on the boat were captive during their passage in Libya," he continued.

Imran explained that he, like many of the group had "come [to Libya] to work" but all that they had found was "war, torture and extortion." Imran himself had flown through Dubai in order to work in construction in Libya. He said that the mistreatment started on his way out of the airport. "I was sold to someone who locked me up. We were 35, 40 of us crammed in to a room, we were not allowed to go out."

Imran describes his experience as slavery. "Then he sold me to someone else who also locked me up. It was like that all the time. I was a slave."

'Just enough food to stay alive'

Another man, Naeem, had a similar experience. He said he was given just enough food "to stay alive. Not one more bite." Although Naeem did manage to escape, when he went to the police he was taken back to a similar situation. "The police took me back to the kidnappers," he told AFP. "It was worse. There was not a single person who helped us in Libya. I did not find a single good person in the whole country."

Other men on board the Ocean Viking explained how their relatives had been extorted for up to $10,000 (nearly €9000), forced into debt by kidnappers. "They come in groups," he said. "They can catch you anywhere, at work, in the street. They blindfold you. They hit you and call your parents, saying 'If you don't pay, he'll die'," said Mohammad Arshad who told AFP he had worked for two years in the port city of Khoms.

'Electric shocks...starved for days'

Arslan Ahmid, a 24-year-old, said he couldn’t find words to describe the experiences he had undergone. "There are also electric shocks. Or else we will be starved, for days, and if we want to drink, it is water from the toilets. "The tortures, the sufferings which I lived, I cannot put words on it," he told AFP.

Ahmid had been in Libya just seven or eight months when he decided to pay around $2,000 (nearly €1800) for a place on a boat. "Here in the Mediterranean, we can die once. In Libya, we die every day," he said in a low voice, after a long silence to the AFP reporter.

Naeem added that he thought it was "better to drown than stay in Libya." When told he was headed for Europe and would not be taken back to Libya he began to look forward to a "second life." He told AFP: "We took the boat knowingly. But death, we have already seen it very closely."

Another man, Mudassar Ghalib described the mens' rescue as "the happiest day of [his] life."

Before that "second life" can begin though, the Ocean Viking needs to disembark its passengers. Since Sunday, June 28, the Ocean Viking has been waiting "between Malta and Italy" for a place of safety to be designated by either the Italian or the Maltese authorities.

Both Italian and Maltese ports remain closed, with quarantine measures aboard vessels moored off shore for anyone arriving from across the Mediterranean. Last week, 28 migrants rescued on the German rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 tested positive for coronavirus. They are currently in quarantine on a vessel off Italy.

Based almost exclusively on feature material and interviews from on board the Ocean Viking by the news agency AFP.


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