“It is absurd that the prime minister of the country who has welcomed me now is shaking hands and making agreements where I lived hell”. Twenty-four years old, nursing student at the University of Palermo, Mustapha he is a survivor. A long journey from the Gambia made at just over fourteen years old, to Libya and its concentration camps, to the crossing. The news of the visit to Libya of Giorgia Meloni joins him in Palermo, where he has now rebuilt his life. “That it is there twenty-four hours after the day of remembrance is a paradox. Yesterday’s history is repeating itself today. The Jews of the third millennium are us young Africans on the way”.
His started in Gambia, then after a very long crossing of the desert for a year he got stuck in Libya. “It was 2014 or 2015. It feels like a lifetime ago,” she mutters. It’s not easy to turn the clock back and go back to that hell lived when he was a sixteen or seventeen year old boy. “When Prime Minister Meloni says she wants to build reception centers in Africa, she comes and asks us who have been there what it means. Those are concentration camps”, he says and his voice ripples.
In detention centers, he says, he ended up there twice. “The first time I was in the building where we slept” with other boys, suddenly one night it was cleared out. They took us all and took us to a detention camp. ” There, he explains, there is only one rule:” bread, water, a whip, everything is given once a day.
There are no rules, laws, courts, lawyers. There are no rights. “You’re a money-making thing. You only go out if you pay.” Or rather, if there are those out there who are willing to pay for you. The methods of forcing them are brutal.
“They strip you naked, hang you upside down and force you to give the phone number of someone in your family. They call them and meanwhile they start beating you savagely. On the other hand, they only hear your screams.” The treatment, she explains, is repeated daily until the ransom is paid. In the meantime, whoever is a prisoner is at the disposal of the jailers. “They often force you into hard labor.”
From that hell, after a few months he managed to escape. He dreamed of Europe, two years earlier, at barely fourteen he had set out from the Gambia for this. “I wanted to study, to live. For me, Libya was just a transit country, but for most of those who arrive there, this is it”. After all, between Tripoli and Benghazi, divided between two governments and dozens of militias, the life of a migrant is worth nothing.
For this Moustapha, as soon as he was released from prison, immediately started working to get away from Libya as soon as possible. And he did it, he found a place on a rubber dinghy, he was sailing that night – certainly scared, because the Mediterranean is scary, but full of hope for having left Tripoli behind – when he and his traveling companions were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and deported back to the country.
Technically it is pushback and according to international law, starting with the Geneva Convention, it is illegal. But Libya has never signed it, so it perseveres also thanks to the patrol boats supplied by Italy. “How many deaths there have been for those agreements,” Moustapha mutters angrily.
“When they rejected us, they took us back to prison. It was even worse than the first one,” Moustapha says. To keep it alive, one hope: the sea.
“The news arrives. We know that many of us have left and never arrived. But when you are in Libya, the only thing that matters to you is to leave”, he explains. So that night he hit the road. It was cold, the punt was old and battered like all those that depart from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. “We were rescued by an NGO ship. I don’t remember which one, I was dazed. I only know – he underlines – that without them I would never have arrived here”.
At the time, NGOs were still the angels of the sea. Accused of being in cahoots with smugglers, branded as sea taxis, with the new decree Planted forced to grind hundreds and hundreds of miles to drop anchor in a safe port to be reached after a single rescue, the ships of the civil fleet are once again in the crosshairs. “Blocking them is a crime against humanity. Civil society only does what the state should do, which instead of being ashamed, even creates obstacles. Those people save lives, preventing them is simply inhuman”