Lampedusa Day 4…an amazing story

Popes cross red

We stopped off in Sicily to meet some people who had made their way from Central Africa to Europe. Lampedusa is only one port that receives refugees and migrants. When boats are intercepted they are brought to many different ports in the Mediterranean. When they arrive the people are brought to detention centres until they are given status if they can prove they are refugees seeking asylum. If they are deemed to be economic migrants they are usually returned or ‘repatriated’.

I met Abraham. He was fifteen when he left his country. He is now twenty years of age. When he was in his homeland he witnessed a murder of someone he knew. The killers were convinced he’d retaliate or inform so they put a price on his head. His sole relative at that time was his grandmother. Before the murder occurred he made friends with an older man who had spent time in Libya, this man was friend of his father who died when Abraham was in his mother’s womb. Following the murder Abraham decided that he had to leave his village and his country if he was to stay alive. His father’s friend had also decided to travel back to Libya and volunteered to fund Abraham’ journey. They would travel together.

The first part of the journey from his native country was traversed by bus but there was no way he could cross the border as a minor without his father and mother. Abraham and his friend had to get off the bus and travel by land across the border to avoid capture and detention. Once across the border the negotiations with the traffickers began. His friend did all the deals. The plan was to get to Libya and the traffickers promised that they’d get them there. They were loaded into a truck and headed deep into the desert. Days and nights passed until the driver stopped and he instructed everyone to get off they truck explaining that he had to go for petrol. They protested asking where he could get petrol in this place however, you cannot argue with men with guns. They had no water and no idea where they were.

The cold at night was as intense as the heat during the day. They travelled when they could hoping they were heading in the right direction. Eventually another group of traffickers arrived and began to negotiate with them. Abraham was taken to one side and a gun was put to this head. The traffickers were going to use him as an example and were ready to kill him. If the other people in the group did not pay money they would be killed. His friend volunteered to pay so they took his money and then shot him but Abraham was allowed to live. His great friend who had taken him so far, feeding him and negotiating on his behalf was now lying dead in front of him.  The remainder of the group was taken to another location where they were locked in a shed. They were continuously beaten and guns were put to their heads in a threatening fashion. The traffickers used mobile phones to contact the family members of those who were locked up trying to extort money from them. If no money was forthcoming they were killed.

Astonishingly the traffickers kept their promise to Abraham. He was brought to Libya and was kept for a long time in a detention centre with adults from many different countires. Many local people visited the centre to bring food and clothing to those who were held there. One day a man who came to visit on a regular basis spotted Abraham and asked him how old he was. He was quite shocked that one so young was in this place and he arranged to take him to his own home to live with his family. Then the war broke out. This man was a political associate of Colonel Gadhafi and as the war intensified it became clear that his life was in danger, his mother had already been killed.  Abraham foster father advised him to get out of the country.

Abraham saw the NATO reconnaissance flights during the day and saw and heard the bombs fall at night. Migrants were rounded up and put in areas to act as human shields. One night the ground shook from the bombs that dropped around him. Soon after this soldiers came to the building where they were kept. Many were ordered out at gunpoint and placed on trucks. As they left all their paper work was taken, every pocket was checked and they were left with only one tee-shirt and one pair of trousers. They were driven to the harbour side and put on a boat with no water and no food. There was one thousand and five people squashed on board a fishing boat. This boat and others like them were used as human shields to hamper the navy offensive and to discourage shelling and the use of torpedoes in the area.

It didn’t take long to realise that the man who was put at the helm of the boat knew very little about navigation. They were basically pushed out onto open water with no guidance or assistance and with no skills set to help them find their way to a safe haven. They were war fodder. For three days they headed off into uncertainty until they came across a fishing boat. They shouted for assistance and even for water but the skipper of the vessel just told them to move on and not to be annoying them. Abraham could tell from the flag that it was an Egyptian vessel. Because people rushed to one side of the boat the bow boat rose up and fell down again into the water. This sudden motion caused many on board to be thrown into the sea. The man at the helm was crying as he tried to manoeuvre the boat back to collect those who were drowning but he wasn’t skilled enough to navigate a course. The fishing vessel disappeared. A day later they were met by an Italian Coast Guard vessel that guided them to a safe haven. Over a thousand people on open water for four days without food or water until they met this ship.

Abraham was detained in a migrant centre for two weeks until he was moved to a juvenile centre. He received basic training and was given work in a hotel. At twenty he went back to secondary (high) school as his childhood schooling was non-existent. He sits with teenagers who are five years younger than him; some are racist towards him sending inappropriate texts. He works every morning from five a.m. before he heads to school. He works after school, he does his homework and he gets extra study support to help him understand the some of the more complex subjects.

I asked him about his understanding of God. He said he could not have made the journey without God. Every day he wakes up the first thing that comes to his mind is God; every time there is a problem he knows God will sort it for him. He explains that whenever he thought the end was nigh, God always sent some one along to help him. He cannot understand how a world can live without God. ‘Where in the world would you most like to live?’ I asked him, ‘wherever there is peace’ was the immediate reply. His prayer is always for peace in the world, he cannot understand how people who say they believe in God are at war, ‘peace is God’s way’, he said. Spontaneously he said that he thinks Papa Francesca is a man of peace and a man of God whose words will last for thousands of years. When he reads what his hero says he feels so blessed and is awe of the man who speaks from God with such authority. Every day and sometimes twice a day he looks up Papa Francesca’s Facebook page to see what is saying. Abraham considers Papa Francesca to be a man who is a leader for all faiths. Abraham, he should know, after-all he is Muslim!

migrant boat graveyard red

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