For eight months now, I have worked with the religious of different Congregations at a Reception Centre for migrants, newly arrived from Libya after crossing the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. With the little experience that I have, I will never again allow myself to utter generalisations about the causes of migration that so many ‘experts’ make from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices! One simply cannot look in the eyes of those traumatised by their experiences and continue to speculate with the ‘experts.’ Most of the migrants have been sold wholesale (in bulk) and then resold retail at the slave market in Libya. They have been tortured in prison or private houses, forced to work without wages or simply killed for the simple reason they are black. Yet in general, they are young well educated people. It can happen that there are illiterate people among them but they are in a minority. Let me tell you about this traumatic experience that we live with on a daily basis.
A joint letter from our two General Councils in May 2015 outlined the causes of the migration which are still valid today. I will not speak about theories in this article.
Why do these people leave their families in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, The Gambia, Cameroons, Togo, Guinea (Conakry), Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia to die in the desert in Libya, in the Mediterranean Sea or in Europe? They are all looking for a better life and security. There are theoretical answers but each person has their own particular reasons which are not the same as their other unfortunate companions. Here are details of some cases:
Her name is Godaines. She is 19 years old and a brilliant student. One day, a friend of her mother proposes that Godaines go to Europe to study as there are scholarships available for intelligent girls. Her mother was very happy and sells everything so that her daughter does not miss this opportunity. In order to avoid the dangers of a desert crossing, her mother buys an airline ticket for Tunis because from Tunisia people are “pushed” to Italy. As soon as everything is arranged, Godaines flies to Tunis. At Tunis, the friend of her benefactor is kind enough to tell her that she is going to Italy for prostitution. Craftily, she plays the game and takes the telephone number of the woman who is waiting for her in Italy. However, as soon as she arrives in Lampedusa, she entrusts herself to the International Organisation for Migration, crying and pleading that she be spared such hell. No sooner said than done, they send her to us under escort (very discreetly) and the following day she is sent to a centre of the IOM where she will be well protected. Will she be able to follow her studies? We do not know, but we are happy that she is safe.
He is called Adama. He is the son of an Army General. His father was assassinated by the regime in place in a fake ambush organised by the Head of State. He was 16 when his father was killed and all the family believed the version of events put out by the regime. Three years later, an accomplice to the assassination decided to talk and Adama is threatened with death. He is to be made to disappear so that he never asks who killed his father. The witness helps him to escape one night and he endures a horrific journey through the desert and in Libya. In prison, he spent four nights with six corpses of his friends who had tried to escape. He arrived to us completely unbalanced. I do not know where he is today but I always remember him in my prayers.
She is called Miriam, the third daughter of a young doctor. When the Ebola epidemic broke out in Guinea, her father was among the first victims. She was 12 years old. The Red Cross came to look for her mother and her elder sister. The mother left with the eldest and the youngest children. Miriam and her brother, aged eight, were put in quarantine. Having not seen her mother for five days, they decided to flee to an uncle’s house. However, the uncle did not want to receive them because of Ebola. The two children walked for three days in the forest arriving at the hut of an old lady living alone. She welcomed them, but Miriam was not used to living so poorly and she decided to run away once more. She and her brother met a group of young people going to Libya. Worn out, her small brother decides to return to the old woman but she decides to continue. When she arrived at our place, she was 18 years of age and the victim of repeated rapes. She has had no news of her little brother.
David is 35 years old. He is a skilled fashion designer and had a good living in Senegal where he employed three workers. A friend, living in Algeria, came to him seeking his help because he had just signed a contract and needed an accomplished designer for the curtains in the house he was building. David spoke with his wife, who encouraged him to go. He did not suspect anything. The friend said they would be crossing the desert because he knew many of the drivers who brought people to Algeria. To his great surprise, David found himself in Libya three days later. His friend reassured him that they would be moving on to Algeria the following day. However, instead of going to Algeria, he found himself in the house of a Libyan to whom he had been sold as a slave. He arrived at our place with a paralysed hand because of the tortures inflicted on him by his master. His back was skinned because of the whiplashes he received when he did not finish the work assigned to him in the fields. He only asked for one thing, to return home and resume his work.
Sons and daughters of Lavigerie, what should we do before the cry of our Founder on behalf of the slaves? Like him, let us cry loud and strong, so that nobody is labelled an economic migrant because they are coming from a poor country. We should denounce the agreements that the EU has signed with poor countries of which, Libya is one, to repatriate by force the people who are fleeing in order to save their lives. We are human beings and horror inflicted on so many of our fellow human beings today should make us rise up in indignation and push us to act. Let us condemn the criminal regimes of Africa and elsewhere that kill and sell their citizens in order to fill their pockets. Christ paid with his life for proclaiming the truth. May the Risen Lord whom we celebrate today give us the strength to be witnesses to His truth!
Vicky Chiharhula, msola