The UN refugee agency UNHCR on their website told the story of Feven (not her real name), an 18-year-old migrant who fled Eritrea at the age of 15.
Feven spent 18 months in Libya before she was rescued at sea by the Open Arms vessel on August 1. Along with 13 others, Feven was evacuated from the ship to Lampedusa for medical reasons on August 15.
“We were sharing two toilets for 130 people,” she said of her time on the Open Arms. “We were sleeping all together on the boat’s deck: some areas had shade, others not. We had to take turns. We were malnourished, though not from the days on the boat. That was a consequence of the long time we had spent in the traffickers’ hangars in Libya,” she said, her voice a whisper.
An ordeal that began at age 15
Feven’s ordeal began in early 2017, when she was forced to flee Eritrea at the age of 15. She was completely alone, UNHCR said. She declined to talk about her journey to Libya or her experience during the 18 months spent there in a hangar run by traffickers.
UNHCR said many women in the centers have experienced violence, rape and torture for the purpose of extorting money from family members back home, and some have been killed. Traffickers imprison migrants and asylum seekers in Libya for months or even years before transporting them towards Europe by boat, the UNHCR says.
Feven recalled that vessel she was on held 52 African migrants, including 15 women and two children.
At sea ‘we were terrified’
The journey was a nightmare. “The wooden boat was stranded at sea off Libya for two days,” Feven said. “The engine broke down. There was water leaking inside the boat. The waves were so strong. We were terrified, but we were coming from hell. We were not afraid to die. Then Open Arms saved us. We were not allowed to leave the ship because Europe didn’t want us. Then we started fearing we could be sent back to hell: Libya,” she said.
Feven came ashore on Lampedusa together with a small group of minors. Four days later, around 100 migrants who were still on the Open Arms ship were finally given permission to disembark, after the Agrigento prosecutor’s office overruled the closed-port policy of far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.