The Address | Benghazi – Libya
TRIPOLI – I tried to reach Europe at the start of this year. We were in the boat for 26 hours, in the middle of the Mediterranean, and an Italian helicopter came to take photos. After that, the Libyan coastguards appeared to take us back to Libya, and they brought us to hell. Since then, I’ve been in a detention centre in Tripoli.
As of today, infected people here have gone three weeks without tuberculosis medication, and now we think all the men and boys have it. Doctors stopped showing up, they stopped the medicine, and we all live together. Even the guards don’t come near us, they tell others not to come close. The place we are living in is like a cave. There are no windows. There is no fresh air. We share beds, cups, almost everything. To pass time we pray in the morning. We sit. We sleep. It’s dark inside all day.
Two weeks ago, a Somali man killed himself by taking petrol from a generator and setting himself on fire. His name was Abdulaziz, and he was 28. He had waited nine months for evacuation. He was a good man: when officials from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) visited he asked them why he had spent so long in prison. The last time they came, he said the UNHCR rejected him. So he took the petrol. He had lost hope of UNHCR support after waiting so long for transfer to a safe country. Seven others this year have died from the conditions. Nobody takes responsibility for us. Our only need is to leave Libya, because Libya has no government. I am Eritrean, so I can’t go back home. Other people might have a choice, but not Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese.
Meanwhile the EU countries are playing games, especially Italy. Eriteria was colonised by Italy for a long time. For Eritrean people still there is no freedom, and Italy directly or indirectly shaped that. My country is a dictatorship. It feels like EU countries don’t want African people to develop, be smart, educated and so on. That’s why they are doing this. They are killing our time, killing our brains. It’s like the cold war. Our conditions just get worse and worse. There’s not enough food, and people drink toilet water.
And it’s covered up. When people come for visitors’ days, the guards give us good food, a good environment, sanitation. But refugees don’t have contact with visitors, we don’t have a chance to talk to them about our problems. Sometimes we only see them through a small hole in the door. When the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited this year, I got through the guards by force and found him, telling him every problem in the detention centre and asking why evacuations had stopped. He said to me: “I know all the problems.” We spoke face to face. After he left, the guards beat me and threatened me so I would not do it again. From that moment, I’ve never been allowed outside or to talk to any organisations. That’s why I’m forced to write now with a pseudonym.
When the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) give us things such as hygiene products, or blankets, they take some pictures. Then, when they leave, the guards take it back and sell everything. IOM and UNHCR know this game, but they don’t do anything. They pretend like they don’t know. Sometimes the guards beat us in front of them and they don’t stop it. We have to ask our families to send us money for food and hygiene products. It arrives through the black market, and the guards take 40%. Otherwise we’d die. Recently we tried to break down the door and run away together, but we didn’t make it. The guards met us with guns and chains.
All the while the Libyans who are supposed to look after us are thinking only about how to get more money from UNHCR. They make films, they lie, they pretend they’re managing, helping the refugees. When they know white people will come they clean up, hide the people who are in a bad condition and those they have beaten. If it wasn’t ruining so many lives, you could almost laugh at the way they pretend: they could be Hollywood actors.
• Thomas Issak is an Eritrean refugee
Source: The Guardian