After receiving threats in Côte d'Ivoire, 19-year-old Sarah fled to Libya. Shortly after her arrival, she was arrested and imprisoned in Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli. She says the prison guards raped her every night until she gave birth to her son. Today, the young woman dreams of crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This is her story.
Sarah* was "lucky", she did not have to undergo female genital mutilation when she was young. But once she got married and her new mother-in-law discovered this, there was uproar. Afraid she would be forcibly circumcised, the young girl tried to take refuge at her parents' home. Her father refused to take her back, so she returned to her in-laws, where she was violently beaten. Traumatized, she ran away and got into the first car that stopped. The driver dropped her off at her older sister's house in Pogo, a small town on the Malian border.
She spent a few months in Mali, first in Bamako, where she worked in a market, then in the north in Gao and Kidal. She decided then to go to Libya via Algeria. She told InfoMigrants her story.
"To get across the Libyan border, we had to walk through the night. My feet hurt so much, my big toe was bleeding. I felt like I was walking on fire. When we arrived in Libya, men raped several girls who were with us. I was lucky that time.
The next day, a car came to get us. I arrived in Tripoli on August 28, 2018. I lived in a man's house for a while. One day, Libyan police broke down the door and arrested us. I was sent to Tajoura prison.
'They raped us in the room, in front of the others'
There were no cells, we lived in small rooms with mattresses on the floor. Many Nigerian families were there. In the mornings, they gave us a little bread with butter. The rest of the time, we ate spaghetti.
Every day, women were raped by two guards. They would come and get them late at night. I would hide under the mattress so they couldn't see me. When it was over, the women came back with food.
One day, it was my turn, the men came straight for me. I grabbed the door, I screamed, but they hit me to shut me up. They took me to a small room and stripped me. I told them I didn't want to, but they slapped me. They raped me and then they took me back to the room.
Every night, the guards came to get us. When I wanted to tell the IOM people who came once a week to give us food, it was too late. By then, the guards had already forbidden us to go out into the yard.
As time went by, the Libyan guards didn't even bother to take us to another room. They would rape us in the room, in front of all the others.
'My belly started to get rounder'
One day, a woman died in the cell on the same day she gave birth. I couldn't go near her because I'm afraid of blood, and she had lost so much blood. Before she died, she was clinging on to another woman, clearly in much distress. We told the guards that we had to take her to the hospital, but one of them threatened us with his gun and he even shot in the air. We couldn't do anything.
A few hours later, they came to get her body and they cleaned the room. I still hadn't moved, I was paralyzed in the corner of the room. After that, there was a lull, the guards didn't come to rape us anymore. But it didn't last long. The next time I was raped, I didn't fight anymore, I didn't scream anymore, I didn't have the strength anymore.
Then my belly started to get rounder. More and more. When I realized what was happening, my heart was split in two. I didn't want this child, not now and not here. I started hitting my stomach, I stopped eating. I wanted him to die.
One afternoon, I was in great pain. All the women came close to me to support and reassure me. They told me to calm down and not to worry. We had become a family. They were yelling at me to push, but I couldn't. One of them said, 'I'm going to pus'h. One of them got on top of me, and two others grabbed my feet. They encouraged me a lot, one of them even started to cry. I was in so much pain, I wanted to die. But the baby finally arrived, on March 26 2020.
When they found out, the guards came and opened the door to the room. They told us to leave, that we were free. I couldn't believe it. Everyone jumped for joy, some people instantly ran away. I was hurting all over, but I went out too, without the baby. But the guards caught me and made me take my son with me.
'I hide in the shower to cry'
I left with an older woman and we took a cab to a neighborhood in Tripoli where there were many English-speaking Africans. When I got out of the car, I ran away, leaving the baby with her. She caught up with me and told me that if I abandoned him, no one would take care of him, that I had no right to do that because it was God who had entrusted him to me. I was in tears, I cried all night.
Today I live in Zaouia with my son and 36 women in a big house. There is also a three-week-old baby, and six other young children. As I don't have any work, the other women give me food, boiled potatoes and I crush some tomatoes into them.
In my room, there is no bed, I sleep on a carpet with a small blanket. The other women give me clothes. They are all waiting for a boat to Europe.
Before I came here, I had never thought of leaving. But today, I would like to, to get away from all this, even if it's very expensive. It costs 6,000 or 7,000 dinars to get on a boat.
If I had the money, I would try my luck. One day, maybe. Life is too hard here. Sometimes I hide in the shower to cry. But I would still prefer die in Libya than go back to Côte d'Ivoire."
*Her first name has been changed