By Olajide Meseko
Many Nigerians youths have been on the road to Europe through Libya in search of greener pastures but while some have good memories to talk about having reached Europe, others have sad tales of the journey.
Sadly, Fatima Ateure and Gift Roland from Orhiomwon Local Government Area of Edo State represent a minute segment of the Libya travellers with sad tales of the journey.
The duo said they were priced like tomatoes and pepper by traffickers who wanted to use them as sex workers in their respective brothels in Libya.
What worried them was the fact that those carrying out the inhumane acts in collaboration with the Libyans were Nigerians.
In the last four years of the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki, over 6500 indigenes of the state, including Fatima and Gift have returned from Libya.
Speaking as ‘voice of migrants’ during the World Day Against Trafficking in Person, organised by Genius Hub – an NGO training some Libya returnees and others in Edo State, Fatima Ateure, a mother of three, who travelled to Libya in 2014 and voluntarily returned in 2017, said she went through a harrowing experience in Libya.￼
She said after paying the required money, she was taken to a shrine in Nigeria for oath taking by her traffickers. “At the shrine, I was stripped naked and made to swear that if I tell anybody, I will die and because of that I didn’t tell any one.”
“I left Nigeria for Libya in 2014 through Kano. We spent almost a month on the road before getting to Libya. From Niger, we entered a Hilux van to Agadez and over 50 people were on the Hilux and once one falls down, that is the end.”
She said during the journey, due to scarcity of water, they resorted to drinking urine in order to survive. “Before we reached the boundary between Niger and Libya, over 10 persons who started the journey with us died on the way.”
She said when they eventually got to Libya, they were kidnapped because the traffickers they paid money to, only paid part of the money. “We were kept in a room where they fed us once a day after serious beating and torture.”
“To escape the torture, we were forced to call our families back home and put the phone on speaker so that they will hear us crying as a result of torture in order to force them to pay more money.”
“Those of us who couldn’t get money were sold off to other traffickers and it dawned on me that the life and good job I was made to believe were pure lies.”
“When our buyer told me I will work as a sex worker, I told him over my dead body because I was told back home that I was to work in a boutique and I didn’t pay for prostitution.”
She said because of her resistance against prostitution, she was sold off to another person who took her to his place where she was priced like tomatoes, pepper and onion.
She said “they were pricing me between 800, 1,000, 1500 and 2000 dinar (Libyan money).”
“One said to me, you are very fresh and I will pay 2000 dinar while another said I was not beautiful and would only pay 1000 dinar.”
She said when they couldn’t buy her, her madam ordered that she should be taken to a house where she was billed to work as a sex worker forcefully.
“When I got to the house, I saw hordes of Nigerians and other African women who were there as prostitutes. When I still refused, they threatened to kill me.”
“My agreement with our trafficker before leaving Nigeria was to pay N500,000 but I ended up paying N1.5m.”
She did all kinds of menial jobs to survive, adding that after paying her trafficker, she worked for several months to be able to save money to cross to Italy after two years.
“But as we entered the boat to Italy, Nigeria and Ghana boys started a supremacy battle. And the sea that was calm started surging and, in the process, water spilled inside the boat and resulted in a stampede.”
During the struggle for survival Fatima said, fuel spilled on her and she fainted. “I didn’t know how we were rescued but when I finally woke up, I said thank God I have entered Italy. Unknown to me, I was still in Libya.
“It only dawned on me that I was in Libya when someone spoke Arabic language to me. My suffering continued because I had already given out my property. And once you pay and couldn’t cross to Italy, you would need to pay again before you can cross over, so I decided to work in Libya to raise money.”
“It was in my place of work as a house help that I was arrested by the police who branded me a prostitute and dumped me in detention camp and it was there I prayed to God to take me back to Nigeria.”
“After my prayer, the Nigerian Ambassador came to the camp and compiled names for deportation. And that was how I returned to Nigeria on December 12, 2017. If I can’t get to Europe, it is better I return home to freedom.”
She added that with the help of Genius Hub, “I have learnt tailoring and shoemaking and today I am a proud owner of a tailoring shop. I am earning money.”
“I am now a ‘victim voice’. I am out to let the youth know that one can also make it in Nigeria.”
On her part, Gift Roland, a mother of two, who left Nigeria in February 2014 to Italy through Libya said it was a journey of sad memories and agony she wished never happened.
“We were deceived that we are going to Italy by plane but I realized I had been scammed when we got to Kano on the road to Niger and Libya.”
She said while in the desert, the boy who deceived her to undertake the journey died and his death instilled fear in her that she might not survive the desert.
She said as she was crying that her helper was dead, one of the traffickers promised to help her as soon as she gets to Libya.
“She said she had two jobs for me – prostitution and house help. If I work as a sex worker, I will pay back the money in two months but if I take the house help job, I pay back in three months, so I opted for house help.”
“When we got to Libya, I was able to pay back the money in three months after working as a house help.”
After she had completed the payment, her uncle in Italy who had refused to help her while in trouble in Libya suddenly called and asked her to come to Italy and that he would help her get a job.
“My Arab madam liked me so much but I had to leave for greener pastures, or so I had thought. I told her to give me my money because I wanted to go back home. She reluctantly gave me the money (N500,000) after much quarrel.”
She said after collecting the money she paid N200,000 to her uncle’s friend to cross to Italy and sent N250,000 to her people back home.
Unfortunately, her uncle’s friend sidelined her and took other people to Italy and when she questioned his action, he said he would have sex with her first or else she would die in Libya. “I asked him why he still wanted to sleep with me after getting one of my sisters pregnant. He later agreed to help me.”
While waiting to cross to Italy, a fight broke out in the ghetto where they were hiding and it was raided by the police and they all ran away.
She said she did all kinds of menial jobs to survive before someone else helped her to get into a boat to Italy. While on the high sea, their boat ran out of fuel. A rescue team from Germany that came their way refused to help them, saying they don’t need migrants any more.
To their disappointment, a Libyan rescue team came their way and returned them back to Libya. “They said Nigerian girls are big money for them whether pregnant or not. They took some people to deportation camp and others to prison.”
She was unlucky again as she was taken to the prison where they were asked to buy their freedom with N250,000.
“The prison was like hell; you eat once a day and it is only when the owner of prison is happy that you can eat twice a day. It was when the UN came to the place to give us cloths and food that they advised me to go back to Nigeria because I was pregnant.”
“When we arrived Lagos, I refused to travel to Benin out of shame because I promised my mother that I will come to Benin with a big car and take my younger ones abroad.”
“When Governor Obaseki came for Edo indigenes, we were given N42,000 by IOM and promised empowerment scheme. Even when I reached Benin, I refused to go home because of shame. I called my grand mother who encouraged me to go home because my mother died while I was away.”
“I told her I was pregnant but she said she is happy that I am not dead and she would be happy to receive me.”
Gift was later invited for a skill acquisition training with Genius Hub and she learnt make up. They were given starter packs after graduation and today she is a proud owner of a beauty salon.
She, however, called on girls not to venture into the “dog eat dog” journey to Italy. “I was a victim and I can authoritatively tell you that all the promises by traffickers are fake.”