Migrants anxious to start anew in Europe after Libya 'hell'

2018-07-04 20:12

Izzeddin al-Ghalban's first attempt to reach Europe ended when the boat engine died. The Libyan coast guard thwarted his second. After a third try, the 23-year-old rested on the deck of a Spanish aid group's rescue ship as it headed toward Barcelona, grateful that he finally made it.

"Libya is hell," al-Ghalban told The Associated Press on Tuesday aboard the Open Arms, a ship run by charity Proactiva Open Arms.

The young Palestinian from Gaza was one of 60 migrants the crew of the Open Arms rescued on Saturday from a rubber boat floating in waters off Libya's coast, a scenario that's been repeated over and over on the Mediterranean Sea in recent years.

Such rescues are getting increasingly complicated after Italy's new government closed its ports to ships like the Open Arms, calling them de facto "taxi services" for human smugglers operating in Libya.

Aid groups deny any links to the smugglers, saying they are trying to save lives amid a human catastrophe. Thousands of people have perished trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy vessels since 2015.

After the island nation of Malta also denied the Open Arms authorisation to dock, Spain agreed for the second time this summer to receive a ship carrying migrants from the rescue zone off Libya, even though the country is much further away.

"I had seen the Spanish boat in my dreams," said Judith Widianou, who fled violence in Central African Republic with her partner and their 9-year-old son. "I'm so happy, it's as if God had come to me."

Her son was sporting a FC Barcelona soccer shirt, given to him by the crew of the Open Arms.

"If a person leaves his country, it's because there is danger there," Widianou said. "Italy must calm its heart and do what it was doing before (rescuing and taking in migrants). For the love of God."

On the journey to Spain, some migrants rest while others learn Spanish, writing down basic vocabulary words and phrases in crumpled notebooks.

The ship is set to arrive in Barcelona on Wednesday. The migrants will get 45 days to apply for asylum in Spain or other countries in the European Union. Many have relatives in Germany, Belgium and France.

Honoree Bitcha said he hoped to be granted refugee status in Spain.

The 39-year-old left his native Cameroon in 2014 to look for work. He said his parents died when he was young, leaving him and five younger siblings to fend for themselves.

Like many migrants who end up in Libya while making their way toward Europe, Bitcha said he was enslaved and tortured by criminal gangs that demanded money.

With tears running down his cheeks, Bitcha went down on his knees to demonstrate how his captors whipped him while forcing him to speak to his brother on a cellphone. They wanted his brother to hear his screams after each lash, Bitcha said. The torture continued until his brother could pay his ransom in full, he said.

No wonder his brother was overjoyed when Bitcha called him from the Open Arms on a phone he borrowed from a crew member.

"My only hope is that Spain lets me stay. I count on that," Bitcha said. "Because if they let me go, I don't know what I'll do with my life."

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook


Read more on:    libya  |  immigrants  |  migrants  |  north africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/World
 

Kim Kardashian-West buys fake testicles to boost her dog’s self-esteem

Kim Kardashian is known for her over-the-top lifestyle and crazy spending habits. This may be a little extreme though…

 

Paws

10 tips on exercising your dog
Our top picks for doggo post of the week
Meet the unstoppable two-legged cat taking over the interwebs!
10 foods you should NEVER feed your dog!
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.