Trafficked to Europe: One man's perilous journey across the Med

People smuggling has become a boom business in Libya. Credit: Reuters

After fleeing Eritrea, Abdel Rahim Ali says his journey from the Horn of Africa to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea was fraught with hunger, incarceration and the constant threat of death. Here he writes about his experience.

I am 29 years old. I fled Eritrea after a jail sentence for leaving my military service. My journey to the UK took six months and cost $4,500 (£3,000).

I first went to Sudan. The really difficult journey started when I left Sudan with a group of traffickers.

We started in a lorry from Khartoum. We were 150 people. The Sudanese traffickers took us into the Sahara desert. It took six-to-seven days, far longer than we had been told.

Our food and drink ran out after three days. We asked the traffickers for more, but they refused. They wanted to use all the space to fit in more people.

The Saharan desert is a regular passage for migrants smuggled into Libya. Credit: Reuters

Some people started drinking their own urine. People were worried that they were close to death. Somehow most of us made it. The traffickers left us in the desert and we were picked up by Libyan traffickers.

In Libya we were held in a big building for two months, at least 1,000 of us. We were given bread and water once a day. Anyone who tried to leave the building was shot. Some women were raped by the guards.

Eventually we were taken to a small inflatable boat. It sank quickly and we were picked up by the Libyans. They took money and made us stay a week in Libya before telling us go our own way.

There was fighting in Libya and no way to go to Sudan again or back to Eritrea. I knew I might die on the journey, but I had to take the chance on another boat.

More than 3,000 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2014 alone, according to official estimates. Credit: Reuters

There were 500 people, but only 14 gallons of water – which we kept for the 60 or 70 women – and no food for the three-day voyage. Some people tried to drink sea water. I can’t talk about it. It was too awful.

The boat’s engine failed, but we were picked up by the Italian coastguard. I stayed on the streets for three months, because I didn’t want to give my fingerprints. Then I managed to go to France by train.

When I saw the living conditions in Calais I asked why people don’t apply for asylum in France. I was told that it took months to get an appointment to make a claim and you end up living on the street, so it was better to try to go to the UK.

Abdel is currently awaiting a decision on an application for asylum in the UK.

This blog was originally posted on Migrant Voice, and ITV News cannot independently verify the claims made by its author.