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“When we cross countries, people do not see us as human beings, but just as possible sources of income.”

 

A demonstration in front of a migrant tent city in Rome with a sign that reads ‘the tent city has to close’, February 2017.

 

THE MIGRATION BUSINESS

“The route from our countries to Europe feeds local businesses, based on the fact that we travel illegally, and so we are vulnerable. When we cross countries, people do not see us as human beings, but just as possible sources of income.”

“I started my journey in Gambia. When we crossed Burkina Faso in order to reach Niger, we were stopped by uniformed officials who extorted money by abusing their power. Officials asked for documents, those having passports were asked to pay a bribe of 10.000 XFO (approx. 16 USD), those lacking documents were asked to pay a bribe of about 20.000 XFO (approx. 32 USD) under the threat of imprisonment. The police act like smugglers. “Illegal” migration is totally accepted and encouraged by local authorities. It is a business for them, too. Police stop migrants, ask for bribes and if you don’t have money they will search your body. They can maltreat you to make you call your family. Exactly like smugglers do.”

LACK OF INFORMATION

 “In Agadez, where we all converged, some of our countrymen approached us, and offered us their ‘help’. They warned us about the risk of being first robbed and then imprisoned in Libya, and they proposed to keep our money in order to send a ransom whenever needed. Such local businesses totally rely on the migrant’s lack of information and his vulnerability.”

 EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE

“On the route from El-Gatrun to Sabah and to Bani Walid, our smugglers turned out to be accomplices with local criminal gangs, who are called Asman Boys. Smugglers pointed out the wealthiest migrants to kidnap and to ask a ransom. Once we got to Tripoli, landlords also took advantage of our defenselessness. They rented a crumbling and overcrowded house to me and some friends at an excessive price. They also committed abuse against us, such as sexual violence on women and raids with the cooperation of local criminals. One night, when we were in the house, Asman boys broke in and ordered us to get naked. We were scared, so we did it. One Nigerian boy amongst us had a tattoo of a naked women on his arm. The Asman boys asked him to get closer, so that they could see the tattoo better. They looked at it and they did not like it, probably because of their religion. So, they took fuel and they burned the boy alive in front of the house. He was not even 20 years old.”

“Once in connection houses, where smugglers usually keep migrants for days if not months before they sail, we did not have free access to water and food. We had no access to a proper space to urinate and defecate, and we could not leave the compound. Also in connection houses, they kept doing business with us. A biscuit that should cost 1 dinar was sold for 9 dinars. If you went out to shop for food, it was a risk for you, and sometimes food sellers in connection houses beat you for doing it. The conditions were so harsh that some migrants could not stand them and died before getting to the coast.”

“Once we left the land, we were stopped on the open sea by bandits who took us back to the coast in order to force us to pay again for the boat trip. Some smugglers arrived, pretending to have freed us from the sea bandits, and they asked us to pay them back for the ransom they claimed to have paid. But they were just accomplices with the bandits, and had not paid any sum.”

LESSONS FROM THE JOURNEY

“This journey showed me that an “illegal” migrant is a source of wealth for too many people, also for European xenophobic political parties who also use us for their electoral purposes. Just now that we are talking, there is a demonstration of an extremist right party just in front of our tent city, they use our problems for political gain.”

February 2017 – Documented by MHub Data Focal Point in Italy – Angela Tullio Cataldo

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