Hakim Bello writes: The boy next to me fell to the floor and for a moment I didn’t know if he had fainted or was dead – then I saw that he was covering his eyes so he didn’t have to see the waves any more. A pregnant woman vomited and started screaming. Below deck, people were shouting that they couldn’t breathe, so the men in charge of the boat went down and started beating them. By the time we saw a rescue helicopter, two days after our boat had left Libya with 250 passengers on board, some people were already dead – flung into the sea by the waves, or suffocated downstairs in the dark. It’s very difficult for me to think about this, nearly four years after I paid a smuggler to get me out of Libya, but it’s important for people to understand what is happening to us and why.
I’m one of several hundred thousand people who, since the Arab uprisings of 2011, have arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean. It is now the deadliest border in the world. We all have different reasons for doing it: some people think they’ll find a better life in Europe, others just want to get away from a war zone. But everyone feels they have no other option.
I’m originally from Nigeria and I had been living in Libya for five years when the war broke out. I had a good life: I was working as a tailor and I earned enough to send money home to loved ones. But after the fighting started, people like us – black people – became very vulnerable, because all the youth had weapons and they knew we had money in our houses and they could rob us. If you went out for something to eat, a gang would stop you and ask if you supported them. They might be rebels, they might be government, you didn’t know. [Continue reading…]