Remembering the Dead
Migrants who survived the world’s deadliest route tell the stories of those that didn’t
Princess, Patrick and Amadou lost loved ones as they tried to reach Europe through the Sahara Desert and Libya. For every life lost on migration routes, there is at least one life changed forever back home.
“My husband and I sold everything we had, and with 600 dollars in our pockets, we left for Europe. We wanted to try and provide a better life for our four children — now we only have three. On our way to Libya, my three-year-old son died. The pick-up car they piled us into was very small and overcrowded. There were about 50 people inside with no food or water. People were dying left and right.”
“We were on our way to Libya in a group of 82 people, in three different cars. The driver stopped in the middle of the desert saying he needed to change vehicles, but that he would come back. We spent the following 10 days in the desert. By the second day, the first person had died.
We saw from a distance that the drivers were caught by the military as they were coming our way. We hid the whole time. We didn’t realize at that point that they were looking for us to rescue us — or that we even needed to be rescued in the first place.
People started fainting and eventually dying. Two children aged seven and five died, and then their mother did too. Some drank their urine, hoping they would feel better, but it only made them sicker. They were coughing a lot and died holding their stomachs. We made 24 holes in the sand to bury the dead, and put stones all around them.
One car stopped at some point and offered to take us to Libya in exchange for money. 26 people jumped into the car and left. We haven’t heard anything from them: maybe they are in prison, maybe they are dead — who knows. I started the journey with two friends, one of them I had to bury in the desert, the other one I assume is dead.
After a week in the desert, I couldn’t go on anymore so I told my group to leave me there. I was completely alone for the next three days. I fainted several times a day, and would crawl on my knees during the night when it was less hot, in hopes of finding a rescue team or, at least, the road.
After they found 23 survivors, the rescue team also found me somewhere further away between a pile of corpses. They thought I was dead and so did I. A soldier saw my hand moving so they poured water all over me. I opened my eyes for one second and then lost consciousness. Next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital.
Since, I’ve been at IOM’s transit centre in Dirkou, I’ve had enough time to reflect. I am so grateful to be alive. The whole time I was crawling in the desert, I kept thinking about my baby and my wife — they are all I have in this world. I have come to realize that I had a good life before I left, so I can live just fine without Italy.”
“I saw a lot my friends who had been to Europe come back to Senegal with money and build houses for themselves. My friends in France, Spain, and Italy, left without any papers and got them once they were there, so I thought I could be one of them.
I left Senegal with my younger brother last year to try to go to Italy. I arrived in Libya and decided to stay there for a while because I already had a lot of friends there. I worked in a small boutique for a while because I needed money for the boat to Italy, but I could never save enough to pay for the boat.
My brother died in Libya. He was 16 years old. They attacked him in broad daylight in the city centre. They asked him for money, but he didn’t have any. When they had caught me before, I gave them everything I had. But he didn’t have any money so they shot him. I was close by and I recognized the gunshot sound. I ran to see what had happened and saw he was dead.
I called my family and told them the news, and they told me to go back home so I did everything I could to make it back. I met an old man at the border with Niger, and told him I wanted to go back home so he told me about IOM. I am really grateful I met him.
There are so many people in prison in Libya that can’t get out because they have no money. You have no money, you don’t get out. Or you die. It’s simple. We have one friend that died at sea. When we saw how he died, my friends and I decided it wasn’t worth it. The route is too difficult nowadays. A lot of people die on the road. Maybe you make it, maybe you die at sea. This is how it is.
When I left Senegal, I sold all of my dad’s sheep, promising I would replace them once I get to Italy. But I never made it to Italy. If I find work in Senegal, I will stay there, but if I don’t, I might try my luck once more.”