A Nigerian couple heading to Europe via Libya was separated and forced to suffer at the hands of ruthless smugglers. Thanks to a safe house supported by the UN and the medical charity MSF, the two were eventually reunited.
Migrants continue to suffer unspeakable crimes in Libya, according to the UN. The number of people trying to cross through the African nation to Europe has grown this year: the UN migration agency, IOM, says that there are more than 500,000 registered migrants in Libya, many of whom find themselves at the mercy of human smugglers.
23-year-old Halima William crossed the desert from Nigeria to Libya in the hope of eventually reaching Europe, but was forced into prostitution. Her husband Mark, 27, also faced detention and abuse. Finally, each of them was able to escape and find refuge in a rare safe house.
The two were later reunited by mere chance at the safe house in the town of Bani Walid, where they have been staying for the time being. While their scars are still healing, they continue to hope to reach Italy eventually.
Held for ransom
The couple's story is one of many examples of the risks facing migrants who are aiming to reach Europe but who instead end up trapped in a country which remains chaotic and violent.
Mark left Nigeria first in 2016 and was smuggled into Libya across the desert border in a car. When he got to Bani Walid, 180 kilometers south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, he was detained by armed men and held for seven months for ransom. He eventually paid them and found work in Bani Walid as a builder, planning his reunion with Halima by phone to travel onwards.
Halima then came to Libya in 2018, using the same route as Mark. When she reached Tripoli she was sold into prostitution. Without a Libyan phone, she could not contact Mark.
Tearful reunion at safe house
After four months Halima managed to escape and reach the safe house, which is supported by the United Nations and the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The shelter provides food and medical care, and is funded by donations from locals. It has been in operation since 2015 and currently hosts 12 migrants.
Halima felt overjoyed when she found that her husband was already there: "I hug him and kiss him and start crying. He was crying too," she told Reuters.
The founder of the safe house, Al-Hussein Bin Gharsa, said he wanted to show the true, kindly nature of Libyans and of the citizens of Bani Walid: "This is a city of generosity and hospitality."