Ousman* was arbitrarily detained 43 days in Libya after being intercepted at sea. At only 16 years old, he already faced extreme hardships. The young boy has been travelling alone since he is 14. He first defied death in the Saharan desert, spent two years in Libya and then survived three attempts to flee via the sea in the hope to seek safety. In his first two attempts to cross the central Mediterranean, Ousman was intercepted by Libyan maritime authorities and told our teams having spent 43 days in arbitrary detention as a result. When SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue team found him, he was with 83 children, women and men, in the middle of high seas, on an unseaworthy, overcrowded rubber boat, without lifejacket. After being safely evacuated onboard Ocean Viking, Ousman recounted part of his story.
The origin of the dire journey: ” My mum tried to talk to him, but he would start beating her up too.”
“I lost my dad when I was a child, my mum got married to another man that hated me. I feared him. He didn’t give me any chance. He was always trying to beat me up, telling me that I was useless. He was always sending me out of the house. My mum tried to talk to him, but he would start beating her up too. One day, my mum told me that my only chance was to leave Gambia to take this journey. That’s the reason why I left, in September 2021, at 14 years old. I went through so many hardships during this journey.”
Arbitrary detention in Libya: “My mum had to sell her clothes to take me out of that place”
Ousman* spent two years in Libya, a country in the grip of chaos following a civil war. He has been working hard, caring for animals, to earn money in the hope of eventually finding safety elsewhere. “I tried to cross the sea three times. I got intercepted twice. The first time, I managed to escape [from arbitrary detention] but the second time, they took me to prison**. Libyans [authorities] are not nice. They don’t respect humanity.”
“I spent 43 days in jail**. They didn’t give us enough food. I ate once a day. I slept on a dirty floor without mattress. It was cold. It was hard for me. I was suffering. The jail** was tough on me. I even cried, wondering: why did I came to Libya? I was tired; I faced many difficulties. If you have money, they release you. If you don’t have money, you will die there. No one will help you. My mum had to sell her clothes to take me out of that place. That is Libya. It’s very hard for Black people. But I knew I had to face it. I left my country to take this journey, to make my family happy. That’s my dream. That’s my faith.”
The flee via the sea: “I thought I was going to die”
“It was hard for me when I was at sea. The small boat I was onto was moving a lot with the waves. I felt sick. I vomited. I didn’t have food, I was tired. I thought I was going to die until I saw the Ocean Viking. I was so happy; I told my friends [on the boat]: “Am I dreaming?” They told me “No, this is the reality”. I didn’t believe it because I was very tired that moment. I was cold and I was anxious because I was scared of the Libyan [maritime authorities]. I knew that if they were to catch me, no one would have taken me out of detention this time. My mum is now broke, she has no more money. I was scared but I had to take the risk because of my mum’s situation. I need to help her. I am the eldest child; I need to make her proud. I know life is just a risk. I crossed this third time and I finally succeeded, I’m so happy. In Europe, I want to finish my school, I want to study art or maybe I can even be a journalist or a historian. I’ve learnt already many things in life… I want to go back to school. That’s my dream.”
[…] – Where shall we draw you?
“On the Ocean Viking, because here, it’s the happiest time of my life.”
*The name of the survivor has been changed to protect his anonymity
** Survivors often mention “prison” or “jail” to refer to official or unofficial detention centres