The 24 years young Eritrean from Asmara, does not know what is next. The same applies to the other 467 refugees detained in Gharyan by Libyan authorities, which is yet find a way to deport them to their countries. They come from Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia and Eritrea.
François tells us of the hardships he and his companions had to go through on their journey through south and north Sudan, Chad, then Libya. The trip was especially dangerous when their truck broke down in the Great Desert near Oum Hadjer city west of Chad. François managed to escape violence and abduction by people traffickers and bandits, and made it eventually to Murzuk in southern Libya, where he only managed to avoid detention because the official detention centre was too crowded. He was let-go, but he wasn’t as lucky in Gharyan, just 200 kilometres away from the Mediterranean city of Zuwarah, where he was supposed to sail to Italy. François made 3000 kilometres of his 3200-kilometre trip.
In an interview with Dune Voices, François explains the reasons he attempted this dangerous journey. He says the ongoing fighting in his country made him “escape, looking for a better future.” However, his life had come to a halt in this place, and he’s in a very bad condition.
François’s journey companions, Janis and Nahom are escaping a similar reality; “we have been soldiers in Eritrea, for three years. Over there, they only come to take you and make you a soldier. Once a soldier, you remain a soldier until you die”. 17 years old Janis says 12 years old children are being recruited. He escaped the army with 25 years old Nahom, the two men realised that they merely replaced one hell for another.
Refugees describe their situation in detention centres as disgraceful. Food rations are insufficient, Housing places are too crowded you can’t find a place to lie down. Guards treatment and the feeling that they have been forsaken, do not help either.
Bu Rshad detention centre in Gharyan is one of 20 official refugees housing camps in Libya. Bu Rshad administration, which allowed us to interview detainees, stressed the fact that capacities and resources are scarce.
Hasan Attarhouni, a guard at the detention centre says “Often, we have to fire our weapons in the air to keep the place under control”. The guard explains that keeping order in a camp that hosts 500 immigrants with 29 guards working in shifts, is not a simple task.
Attarhouni says the centre often has to send many refugees to other housing facilities. The general situation of the country, and the lack of resources are making matters worse.
Only few illegal immigrants are returned to their countries in coordination with their governments through the voluntary return program, which is operated from Tunisia by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The operation remains very slow, and takes several prolonged phases to be implemented. Since July 2014, only 400 people were returned.
Detainees and staff at Gharyan say that people traffickers charge 400 to 1500 US dollars, and that immigrants are forcefully kept as workers or detainees for months, and sometimes for years when they arrive in Libya, before they manage to migrate, if the at all could.
Illegal trafficking boats are often under-prepared and overcrowded, which means that in most cases, these boats will start to sink, until rescue boats from southern Europe arrive to aid. Smugglers themselves would send out distress signals.
Young François told Dune Voices as he tried to hold his tears how he was found; “8 months ago, they found our truck near Gharyan by chance. They brought us here, where we don’t have a place to sleep. Since then, we’ve treated as criminals, were not! We are humans, we want to live with dignity, we want to feed our families like other people.”