Libyan coastguards at a naval base in Tripoli after they rescued migrants, Nov. 24, 2017. Photo : Reuters
Libyan coastguards at a naval base in Tripoli after they rescued migrants, Nov. 24, 2017. Photo : Reuters

Salif* has attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea six times in the past four years in the hope of reaching Europe from Libya. The 19-year-old Sub-Saharan migrant told InfoMigrants how the departures from the Libyan coast work. He says traffickers and Libyan coast guard officers are sometimes the same people.

"The price to cross the Mediterranean is 3,500 Libyan dinars [about €640]. Prices have increased with the health crisis: before the pandemic, it cost 2,000 dinars [about €360 euros].

When an attempt fails and you manage to try again quickly, some smugglers do not charge again or they charge much less, about 1,500 dinars [about €275].

This is how the crossing attempts work: A few days before the boat's launch, the traffickers gather the migrants in abandoned buildings or large outdoor spaces near the sea. These places, called 'campos', are usually far away from residential areas.

There can be between 150 and 200 migrants staying in the 'campo', including women and children. The people in charge of guarding us and maintaining order are often [Sub-Saharan] Africans who work with the Libyans. They can sometimes be even more violent than the Arabs.

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Life there is very difficult. Phones are forbidden and silence must be total. If we talk or make noise, the guards hit us violently. Sometimes we are also beaten for no reason. The women are taken away almost every day. We don't know exactly what happens to them, but I think many are raped.

At the 'campo', the traffickers give us very little to eat. So before being taken there, you have to stock up on food. I try to take enough cookies and bread to last several weeks, because you can stay there for a long time, waiting for good weather conditions. It is the smugglers who decide when to leave.

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'In the boat, the migrants have a well-defined role'

On the evening of the launch, the smugglers take us to the water's edge in small cars or in trailers, where we are hidden under tarps. On the beach, there are usually between five and ten Libyans. They are the ones who get the migrants into the boats.

Inside the dinghy, things are well organized: several migrants are given well-defined roles.

Before leaving, the smugglers entrust a satellite phone to an Arabic-speaking migrant. A few hours after departure, the smugglers contact him to make sure that there are no problems on board: that no water is entering the boat and that the engine is working properly.

There is also a migrant in charge of the compass, who has to follow the north towards the European coasts. Most of the time, they know the sea well, some were fishermen in their country of origin.

Finally, three or four migrants take turns driving the boat: either they have already used this type of inflatable boat and know how to steer it, or the smugglers train them a few days before the launch.

Typically, these people do not pay for the crossing because they have such great responsibilities: they are the ones who have to maneuver the boat, so they have our safety in their hands.

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'Migration is a lucrative business'

A few hours after leaving Libya, migrants are often stopped by the Libyan coast guard. When we are intercepted, it often happens that one or two of the 'Arabs' who had launched us into the sea a few days earlier appear on board their ship. This happened to me twice. If we tell them that we recognize them, they hit us.

The Libyan coast guards are in league with the traffickers, some work directly with them. They know that by intercepting us at sea, they will receive money from the prisons.

When migrants are sent back to a Libyan port, they are transferred to a detention center. Again, they have to pay to get out. The sum is 3,000 Libyan dinars [about €550]. The first thing the guards ask us when we arrive is: 'Who has money to get out of prison?'

The trouble is that we don't have any cash on us because when we cross the border we leave with nothing. Those who anticipate getting arrested, before setting sail, they give money to friends in Libya just in case. They write down their phone number on their clothes or on a piece of paper.

Once in prison, the guards lend us their phone and we contact our friends [other migrants in Libya]. They give the money to a Libyan they know, usually their landlord or a member of his family. He is the one who gives the money to the prison guard in exchange for a commission of about 250 dinars [about €45 euros].

Migration is a lucrative business. Everything is very well organized in Libya.

Since I've been in Libya, I've had to spend a total of about €10,000, between the money for the smugglers and then the money for the guards to get released from prison."

*His first name has been changed.


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