“They will grab our breasts and genitals. And they beat us savagely ». The testimonies of torture collected by MsF

It is June 30th, the bodies of the last shipwreck lie on the seabed while a girl remains with her eyes closed at the Favarolo port. She is their travel companion. The mediator does not understand why. She just doesn’t want to open her eyes. She doesn’t open them while they are talking to her, she doesn’t open them if she hears other voices. Two tightened cracks, while chaos flows around. At the end the mediator tells her: “You can open your eyes, you have arrived in Italy”. She, one of the 49 survivors, finally opens them. Another arrives in cardiac arrest. The helicopter rescue leans on the island and immediately leaves for Palermo. After a week in the ICU, she too will make it into the 49 count.

Since August 2019, NGOs have struggled to leave, despite the fact that people continue to die and those who do not die at sea are in a detention center, for the sole fault of wanting a worthy life. Very few manage to get there. The policy that decides on the death of people has changed. First the shouted “closed ports” of the then interior minister Matteo Salvini, which from an election campaign slogan then turned into blocks of rescue ships for several days. Then the current minister Luciana Lamorgese who with her past as a prefect knows well the pitfalls and techniques of bureaucracy. And this is how the ports remain open, but the NGOs are still blocked as a result of continuous administrative stops.

From 2019 to today, 13 measures have stopped 8 different rescue ships at the docks, for a total of almost 1200 days of ship stoppage. No detention had ever been ordered in the 2014-2019 period, when the presence of NGO ships was much more systematic, up to a peak of 13 ships operating simultaneously in the Mediterranean Sea. Sea Watch 4 and Sea Eye 4 are currently in port. Geo Barents ready to leave after a month.
Marco Bertotto, “humanitarian affairs manager” of Doctors Without Borders, is in the throes of long calls while organizing the restart of Geo Barents: «NGOs manage to take to the sea intermittently, when they manage to repel government attacks. They operate in a situation of alternation by making long blocks. This is in fact the current situation ». He stops for a moment and starts again: «At sea there is no longer any coordination activity with the competent authorities. Interventions take place thanks to the Alarm Phone or the planes of non-governmental organizations. We often have to pray to dock in port ».

There are those who come from Tunisia, now devastated by the virus and an unstable political situation, where President Saied has removed the premier and suspended Parliament. Those who are in detention centers in Libya and try to escape. Everyone knows, everyone is silent. Young boys, women, men. All be human. The stories coming from the detention centers, collected in the interviews by MSF, seem like a trial. Testimonies that do not have a judge, nor a court, nor horrify public opinion. Testimonies that perhaps, one day, will collect history.

There is the story of a 19-year-old Ghanaian boy who is currently in a detention center in Libya: “Three days ago new people arrived from the sea. They started making noise, knocking on the door to ask the guards why they were here, what was going to happen to them. We, the old folks, have told them to shut up, because we know what happens when we make noise. But it was too late, the guards entered the cell and beat the first people they managed to grab. They don’t care about finding the perpetrators, they beat us all every time something happens. One of the guards punched me in the head and chest. I had blood coming out of my ear and even now I can’t hear very well when people talk. I also know that no one can help us. Some organizations come and make promises, but nothing happens. Yet I do not give up. I have decided that I don’t want to die ».

Another boy aged 16 is from Mali: “The guards give us a plate full of rice, put it on the ground and make five people eat from that plate at the same time. I can only eat slowly because I have problems with my throat and stomach. So sometimes there is no more food for me because others eat everything. Other times, when I slow things down – while they want us to finish the whole dish in a couple of minutes – the guards start hitting me, just because I’m trying to eat, but slowly. ‘

In the society of paradoxes, where the squares go wild to say no to the Green pass, on the other side of the Mediterranean human dignity is killed in the silence of the community. All. There is a group of five Cameroonian girls, aged between 18 and 35, all in prison. One of them relates: “First they took us to a prison where they separated us from men, from our husbands and brothers. They also took my 15 year old son away, I don’t know what happened to him. Then the guards brought the women and children here to Shara Al Zawiya Dc. When we arrived we received medical assistance from Doctors Without Borders, but when their team left, the guards searched us and took away our phones. All the guards are male, and they grabbed our breasts and put their hands against our groin and buttocks. They also touched the children’s private parts to make sure nothing was hidden in their underwear».

The story of Kamil, told by one of his traveling companions, who survived the shipwreck and rescued from the ship Geo Barents on 12 June 2021: «It was already night when I saw a friend of mine sitting on the edge of the boat. The boat was overloaded, there was no room for anyone. He was sleeping, but soon after he woke up, he stood up. At that moment he fell into the water. We tried to look for it. We went back and looked for it, once, twice, three times. We called it: Kamil! Kamil! Kamil! Kamil! But we haven’t heard anything anymore. We didn’t see anything because it was night. It was night. So we let it go. We let him go because we couldn’t do anything for him, we couldn’t help him. ‘

They survive, they try to escape, they abandon their friends at sea, most of them are brought back. A 23-year-old from Sudan who spent a month in a migrant detention center in Beni Walid, Libya: “We saw a plane above us, then two. One white in the morning and one gray in the evening. Soon after, a Libyan government boat that brought us back. We were taken back to a camp, I don’t know where we were, maybe Tripoli. They were beating us. Everyone. We were in a dark room and we were not allowed to raise our heads, otherwise they beat us even more. They beat us in the evening. Then they took us to a smaller room where we had to sit for two days. After that, they drove us to a bigger but still full place. No windows, nothing. They hit you with everything they found. On the head, on the arms, on the legs. The people sitting next to me had broken legs, arms and heads from the beatings. After 19 days in the dark, I asked the guards to release me. My leg hurt because it was infected. They told me that if I didn’t pay, I would stay there and die. My family in Sudan managed to send me some money. When I was out, I didn’t know where to go. I stayed in another Sudanese person’s house waiting for my family to send me more money. In Zuwara, that Friday, when we entered the sea, we were one hundred ”.

Some manage to leave and, if they do not die at sea, they arrive in Italy. Others are taken over by the Libyan Coast Guard with the consent of Italy, which prefers Libyan ships and military to NGO volunteers to regulate the migratory flow. Alida Serracchieri, medical director of Doctors Without Borders in Lampedusa, has just finished her shift on the dock together with Nathalie Leiba, a psychologist. Both provide first aid to migrants: «The conditions when they arrive», he explains, «depend on how many days they have been at sea. People who spend three or four days in a dinghy tend to be extremely exhausted. Then we must also add that if they come from the Libyan route very often they are victims of torture and sexual violence ». Nathalie Leiba continues: «As soon as they landed they don’t understand where they are, some believe they are in Tunisia. We are forced to give them a map to orient themselves. Then they ask to contact the family of origin. Some make very long journeys and do not hear from families for years ». The story continues, while the good weather and the calm sea help the landings in Lampedusa.

“It often happens that this is not the first trip, many have been brought back by the Libyan Coast Guard. Tales are always brutal, ”says Nathalie Leiba. “I remember a Syrian woman who was brought back three times and put in three different detention centers. She said that two hours after she entered one of these centers she saw a brutal scene: they hit a man, he reacted and then thirty guards arrived and massacred him. They split his skull. One of the guards asked her if there were any men with her and asked who they were, then she went to beat them all and would continue until she had sex with him. ‘ The testimonies overlap, the bodies are shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy placidly blocks the NGOs with administrative stops, while in Libya the time of aberration continues to pass.

Source: L'Espresso – News, inchieste e approfondimenti Espresso by espresso.repubblica.it.

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