27 years old, Gambia

rescued by Geo Barents during a critical rescue on the 29 March 2022

“I left Gambia when I was 19 years old. I come from a very poor family. My father could not afford school fees for me and my siblings so I had to work since I was a child. Unfortunately in Gambia, education does not go without money. If you have someone to support you financially then you can get education, if not you just drop out.

So I decided to work because education was important for me. I started working with the bread-bakers; I would have to work from 11pm until 6am, then sleep an hour or two and then go to school. After school I needed to study before I go again at work. But this life was not sustainable so I finally dropped out from school. Almost eight years ago, I decided to leave Gambia and try to find a better future for myself. I tried my luck in many countries. I first arrived in Senegal and then in Mali. I tried to work there but the situation in Mali was very unstable. I managed to save some money which took me to Burkina Faso and then to Niger.

No one could support me from back home so I worked again and saved some money again and tried to cross the desert and arrived at the border with Libya. When I reached Libya the smuggler accused me of not paying him, while I had paid him. So they took us to the prison (detention centre). There, if you do not have money to pay, they would beat you and leave you without food for almost two days. If you have money, they may sell you a pack of toast bread for 5 Libyan dinars (1 euro). The water we drank was always dirty and enough for everyone so often we had to drink the water from the toilet. 

There, if you do not have money to pay, they would beat you and leave you without food for almost two days

One of the people I was friends with in the jail got beaten to death. Before they give you food they beat you very seriously. This man was from Ivory Coast and he could not afford to pay. He was beaten that much that he lost almost all his teeth. His belly was swollen after the beating and he was vomiting everything he was eating. I was trying to smash some boiled potatoes and feed him but he was just vomiting it. His legs were completely broken and he couldn’t even go to the toilet so he had to do everything in the place he was sleeping. One day he just died. I was there when he died.

In these jails, either you pay or you die. They torture you until you pay them. I saw people getting tortured and electrocuted. Sometimes if they understand that you will never pay they just break your arms and legs and they leave somewhere in the city alone. If you try to escape from the jail they just shoot you.

I saw more than 10 people getting killed. Everyone is undocumented there because when we enter the jail they take all our documents and rip them. So when someone dies they just throw their body in the desert.

Women in the jail were telling us that they were getting kidnapped and ganged raped. They were also forced into prostitution.

After I managed to get out of jail, I felt that I was a dead man walking. I felt that I was surrounded by enemies. I was in a foreign country where I had no one. They would throw stones at me or spit on my face in the street and I could do nothing.

I finally stayed seven years in Libya. I have seen so much.

After my time in jail, I tried to find a job. I was working in construction and I was making about 40 Libyan dinars (7.80 euros) per day. I was renting a house with other people and with this money I also had to save some for food and money in order to cross to Europe. It was almost impossible to save enough and that’s why it took me so long to cross.

The first time we were stopped by the Libyan coastguard. They started to insult us, calling us donkeys and they asked us to move to their boat. We had to follow their commands because we knew that if we did not they would shoot us. They shot on other boats in the past. 

Once we were pushed back they put us again in the prison. They took all our money, phones and all belongings. They started to ask again for money but I had spent all my money for the crossing and I had no way of communicating with my family to ask them to help me. And even if I could communicate I am almost sure that they could not afford to send me money so I only had God by then. He would be the only one who could help me.

In the second attempt to cross we were more than 11 hours in the sea. I was not afraid to die. I prefer to die in the sea than going back to Gambia empty-handed. I left Gambia empty-handed and I do not want to go back like this. It took me seven years to achieve my goal of going to Europe, I did not see my family for seven years so I wanted to continue fighting for my life. I am very proud of myself for what I achieved given all the difficulties I had. I have been thinking about the day that I will be in Europe since I was 19 years old. Back then I was only thinking about my dream to continue my education but now my main goal is to be able to see my parents again before they die. We spent seven years apart and they told me themselves that they do not care whether I have money or not, they want to see me before they die and I want to make them feel proud about their son.”