28 May 15 28 Nov 16

Migration: "The journey is a question of life and death"

Abdu, 34 years old, from Gambia, was rescued on 14 May by the MY Phoenix, MSF rescue ship, from a wooden fishing boat carrying 561 people. He tells us his story.

My name is Abdu. I am 34 years old and I am from Gambia. The journey to Libya took me five and a half months, during which time I passed through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria.

From Gambia to Europe

I left Gambia because I needed money to support my family. There’s no work in Gambia. Before getting to Libya, I stopped a little while in Algeria to work and gather a bit of money. There the situation is better than in Libya: you can work, make some money and if you have your documents nobody puts in prison without reason.

But my brother was in Libya and I wanted to find him to travel to Europe together, so I went there. In Libya there are a lot of bandits that attack you and steal everything you have. They harass you, beat you and can even kill you. There’s no freedom in Libya. You can’t walk or go where you want.

Kidnapped several times in Libya

Often people that pretend to be police or army, but are neither, kidnap you and try to extort money from you to let you go. If you have no money they beat you or kill you. I have been kidnapped several times in Libya.

One time, for example, while I was going to meet a friend of mine who had just arrived in Libya, some people pulled me into a car. They drove for a long time and took everything I had with me. I asked them to let me go because I had nothing else and they abandoned me in the desert. I was lucky that some other people were passing by and helped me to get back to the city.

When you arrive in Libya it is easy to get in contact with many people just like me that left their country to look for a better future. They helped me find my brother and we started living together. My brother is younger and I am responsible for him. That’s why every time we needed to go out to get something I left him at home, for his security. And that’s how I got kidnapped several times. I was imprisoned in houses; they were never real prisons or camps.

Organising boats to Europe

These houses are full of armed men and women - everybody has guns and knives, even young kids. They take your money and they beat you up. Every day they would ask me for money and every day they would beat me. If you have no money your life doesn’t have value for them. If you are lucky you know people that will pay for you - I was lucky.

It met smugglers through my friends. They told me that if I had some money on the side they could put me in contact with people organising boats to Europe. I said yes and decided to try my luck at sea. I paid $1700 and decided on a date of departure. The date was postponed 2 times because of bad weather.

One day, three weeks after, they called me and confirmed that we would leave that night and we did. The smugglers are very hard with people. I was lucky because I had a place to stay until they called me. But there are many people that are put in warehouses while they wait for the departure.

A question of life and death

The journey on the boat is a question of life and death. You’re on a small boat without any safety measures and with so many other people. I was very aware that I could have easily died at sea but I told myself that I had to leave, I had no choice. I thought, if God allows me to live, it means I have a purpose - it is destiny.

We go away from our country because we have no choice. We need to earn money for our families. We don’t want to get the Europeans tired of us, to overwhelm them, but we have no choice. We risk our lives to help our families, or neighbours, our friends, our parents and our brothers. That’s why we embark on this journey.

Now that I have been saved I believe more in God and I think about my family and future. The first thought I had when I saw the boat that saved me was to my family and to God.

Find out more about MSF's search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean sea