Migrants labour in Libya to keep dream of Europe alive
Tripoli - Elias, a teenager from Benin, spends hour after hour under a bridge in Libya’s capital waiting for menial day jobs that could inch him closer to a new life in Europe.
Whenever a car stops, Elias and dozens of other migrants dash towards it, ready to accept any job on offer.
In fluent English, he explains his simple plan: “I need to fight for my future. That’s why I am here. And to get money. When I get enough money, I will go to Europe,” said the 18-year-old, sporting a yellow T-shirt and brown cap.
“The sea is dangerous but, when I get an opportunity, I will go. When you cross the sea, sometimes you fail, sometimes you win. I have to prepare myself first,” he said, stoically.
Like thousands of other migrants, he is labouring in Libya to scrape together enough cash to pay people traffickers for a perilous journey across the Mediterranean to hoped-for affluence and security of Europe.
The lucky ones are rescued and transferred onwards. Others perish at sea or are intercepted and returned to war-strewn Libya. Migrants detained by Libyan authorities are held at 16 centres across the country to await deportation. Around 7,000 people are in such facilities.
For the past three months since he reached Libya via Algeria, Elias has shared a small room with three other migrants for a monthly rent of around $110.
“When there’s no work, I sit in my room and listen to the music I like. I like hip-hop and R&B. I like Chris Brown and Tupac,” he said.
Elias also has a passion for football, which he watches on YouTube.
“I used to play football with my friends in Benin but I don’t do that here. I miss playing football but I miss my friends more.”
The young Beninese man says he left behind his parents, four brothers and two sisters because he could find no work to make a living.
In Tripoli, he can make $37 for a long day’s work.
“Sometimes they pay me, sometimes they don’t. It depends on the character,” he said.
Amnesty International (AI), in a report released May 11th, highlighted the grim reality of migrant workers in Libya, where cruelty and abuse drive them to risk their lives in dangerous Mediterranean crossings.
“The ghastly conditions for migrants, coupled with spiralling lawlessness and armed conflicts raging within the country, make clear just how dangerous life in Libya is today,” said Philip Luther, AI Middle East and North Africa director.
“With no legal avenues to escape and seek safety, they are forced to place their lives in the hands of smugglers who callously extort, abuse and attack them.”
Elias was robbed of around $2,100 in savings when gunmen broke into his room and took cash and mobile phones.
“I am starting again from zero,” he said. “In this country, life is not fair. This country is in war but I am here. Why? Because of money.”
Elias remains optimistic nevertheless and has a clear vision of his future. “Maybe I will become a businessman one day. I want to get married one day also and have kids,” he said.
Libya, with a coastline of 1,770 kilometres, has for years been a stepping stone for Africans seeking a better life in Europe, with most heading for Italy.
The situation deteriorated after the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi, with people smugglers taking advantage of the chaos that has gripped Libya to boost their lucrative trade.
The United Nations says more than 110,000 migrants transited Libya in 2014 en route to Europe. Over the last 18 months, more than 5,000 have died trying to reach Europe’s shores.