Scarred by Libya abuse, migrants hope for new life in Europe

Mouctar Diallo, from Guinea, looks out from aboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship, in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday. (AP)
Updated 14 September 2019

Scarred by Libya abuse, migrants hope for new life in Europe

  • EU countries have scaled back their own rescue operations in the central Mediterranean and handed over responsibility to the EU-funded Libyan coast guard

ABOARD THE OCEAN VIKING: It was Mouctar Diallo’s fifth attempt to reach Europe by sea. His previous four tries had been foiled by gangs on speedboats who returned him to Libya where he was detained and beaten.

This time, the 28-year-old from Guinea and 49 other sub-Saharan Africans were determined not to let anything stop them.

“Even if the water is not good, we said ‘today we will go to Europe, or we die,’” Diallo recalled.

And so they departed from Zuwara, Libya, on a blue inflatable plastic boat in a bid to make it across the Mediterranean Sea.

About 26 km into their journey a fishing boat approached and offered to help. But Diallo was suspicious. He had been warned that fishermen, just like the criminal gangs, were known to return rescued migrants to Libyan traffickers in exchange for money.

Then, a large red boat approached. The migrants recognized it from social media: It was the Ocean Viking, a Norwegian-flagged ship jointly operated by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders. Everyone was brought on board.

“First I started crying. I was so happy. I said ‘yes! This time my life has changed’,” Diallo told an Associated Press journalist aboard the ship. “It was my fifth try, my last chance. I preferred to die than go back to Libya. I was so happy I can’t even talk about it. I will never forget that day.”

The rescue happened on Sept. 8 — Diallo’s birthday. He is now among dozens of migrants on the ship, waiting for a European country to give them permission to disembark. They pass their time doing laundry or playing chess with plastic bottle caps. Sometimes they sing and dance.

The ship rejected an offer to disembark in Libya. After having a shower and putting on clean clothes donated by the charities, Diallo showed why. He has knife and bullet wounds on his legs and marks on the top of his skull that his hair has yet to cover. He said they are traces of the violence that migrants are subjected to while held by smugglers in Libya, a country wracked by internal conflict.

“Every day they beat you,” said Diallo, whose nickname is “the general” because of all his warlike scars.

Other migrants had similar stories. Of a dozen people who agreed to speak to the AP, every single one said they were beaten, abused or raped in Libya.

In recent years, EU countries have scaled back their own rescue operations in the central Mediterranean and handed over responsibility to the EU-funded Libyan coast guard. That has helped sharply reduce migrant arrivals in Italy in the past two years. The UN refugee agency says this year more than 6,000 migrants were intercepted at sea by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard and brought back to the North African country.

Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, advocacy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said that while the EU is celebrating a drop in irregular migration, as well as deaths at sea, “what they don’t tell you is what is happening to the people who are stuck in Libya.”

Migrants are held longer by traffickers “who are realizing that the way to make money is not necessarily by crossing the Mediterranean but by extorting people and their families,” she said.

Diallo decided to leave his village in Guinea after seeing how some families were lifted out of poverty by relatives who had gone to Europe. Families who used to have nothing were now building houses thanks to money sent from Europe. So, he wanted to give his family the same, and pay for the school of his younger brother and sister.

Diallo used to work in construction, making bricks, but he doesn’t know where he will end up or what he will be doing. 

He just wants to make it to Europe, find work and earn money. Going back to Guinea, where 55 percent of people live in poverty according to the UN, is not an option, Diallo said. Not after he’s come this far.

But he’s warned countrymen who are thinking about entering Europe irregularly about taking the route through Libya.


Israel approves new settlement 2 days before polls: official

Updated 29 min 31 sec ago

Israel approves new settlement 2 days before polls: official

  • Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet agreed to turn the wildcat settlement of Mevoot Yericho in the Jordan Valley into an official settlement

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved a new settlement in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, his office said, just two days ahead of closely fought general elections.

Netanyahu’s cabinet agreed to turn the wildcat settlement of Mevoot Yericho in the Jordan Valley into an official settlement, the premier’s office said.

All settlements are viewed as illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.

Sunday’s approval follows Netanyahu’s pledge last week to annex the Jordan Valley, which amounts to one-third of the West Bank, if he wins Tuesday’s elections.

“The government passed the PM’s motion to build Mevoot Yericho,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said as the weekly cabinet meeting was convened ceremoniously in the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu has also said he intends to annex settlements in the wider West Bank, but in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-awaited peace plan is expected to be released after the election.

The prime minister’s annexation plans could effectively destroy any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians, the European Union and the United Nations condemned Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley announcement last week.

Netanyahu said the Jordan Valley annexation would not include Palestinian cities such as Jericho, but it would effectively be encircled by Israeli territory.

Netanyahu is locked in a tough re-election battle with ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his Blue and White centrist alliance, and right-wing nationalist votes are key for his Likud.