“We had to bury so many people in the desert. As I was digging the holes, I planned for mine as well.”

Human Wrongs Watch

Nigerian Ernest’s story is part of the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) series: “i am a migrant“.*


Ernest. Photo credit: IOM/Monica Chiriac | 1,848 kms from home #iamamigrant

“The route from Nigeria to Libya was terrible. The driver told us that the road wasn’t good so we had to wait. We were stranded in the desert for three weeks, with no food, water or shade. We were 30 when we left, but only five survived. Some were drinking their pee in order to survive. We had to bury so many people. As I was digging their holes, I was planning for mine as well.

When we finally made it to Libya, they put us in prison in Sabha right away. They asked me to pay, but I had already paid for my trip to Libya when I left Nigeria. They said they didn’t receive the money so they locked me in a room and beat me with pipes and electric wires every day for 8 months.

We were more than 100 people crammed together in a tiny room. I saw people die while I was in there, including two of my friends, from all the beatings and starvation. I had no food or water, and no money to get out. I wanted to ask someone for help, but I didn’t have my parents’ number.

Months later, I managed to get on Facebook and ask someone for their number. My parents were very angry at first and wanted to disown me. They had no idea where I was or that I had even left for Europe. When I left, my smuggler had told me not to tell anyone about my plans.

Eventually, with the help from our community, my parents managed to gather the money and pay the ransom. For one year, I was living in the streets trying to survive and find the money to get back home. I worked as a welder for a man who never paid me but he always threatened to kill me in case I’d disobey. This is the life black people have in Libya.

I was shocked to see so many women forced into prostitution, used as sex slaves. This is not the work they thought they were going to do when they left. Some of them lost their lives because of this. Most of them don’t even get the chance to make a phone call and ask for money to pay their ransom. But no one is there to listen to their cries.

When I finally managed to escape Libya, I made my way to Agadez [Niger]. On our way, our car broke down so we had to join a convoy coming from Libya. Once I reached Agadez, I found myself in the streets again. One day, someone approached me and asked me if I wanted to go back home and told me about IOM.

Here at the transit centre, I feel that I am home already. I see my fellow Nigerians, we play and laugh together – I feel the brotherly love. I am happy today, and I hope my parents will be as well when they see me. While I was in the desert, I kept thinking about them and asking God for forgiveness. They suffered so much to keep me in school and this is how I was paying them back. I want to go back and open a welding shop, and make them proud.”

*Ernest’s story was published in the  UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) series: “i am a migrant“. Go to Original

Read also:

To Be a Latin-American Migrant in Madrid

To Be an Egyptian Migrant in Rome (And Also Make Great Pizza)

To Be a Nigerian Migrant in Italy

Migrants in Italy: “Shame Is Keeping Us Here”

Not Just Numbers: Migrants Tell Their Stories

Libya: Up to One Million Enslaved Migrants, Victims of ‘Europe’s Complicity’

No Health Protection for Migrant-Women Healthcare Givers

2018 Human Wrongs Watch

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