Libya has become one of the main crossing points for migrants and refugees traveling from countries across Africa and the Middle East, in search of a better life in Europe. Essra Saad, a 22-year-old mother from Pakistan, is one of these refugees. She told International Medical Corps staff that she came to Libya in search for a better life only to be met with heartache and sadness.
The lack of security and infrastructure that has characterized the country since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, has also seen tens of thousands of people risking their lives by embarking on the dangerous voyage from Libya’s coastline. The United Nations report that at least 2,600 people have drowned whilst trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.
For those intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard, they are brought immediately back into Libya and are detained at one of the 21 overcrowded detention facilities sprawled across the country. The situation in these centers continues to worsen as overcrowding and shortage of resources places an unbearable burden on them.
A Libyan fishing boat used for smuggling migrants
In September 2015 two boats carrying more than 500 people between them set off from Zuwara port, a major launch point on the Libyan coast for migrants, with the intentions to reach Italy. Within a few minutes, both boats had capsized. Essra was on one of these boats.
The Libyan coast guard responded to the calls for help, but it came too late as rescuers were able to save less than 200 people. 82 bodies were pulled from the water and more than 200 men, women, and children are still reported as missing.
The few survivors of this tragedy were taken to the Surman detention center in Libya, where International Medical Corps was granted access to provide primary health care and distribute items such as blankets and clothing. Our team talked with many of the migrants and Essra was open to sharing her story.
She said she had arrived in Libya with the hope of starting a new life with her little daughter. She said, “I came here with nothing. I didn’t have a job, but I overcame and made it through what I thought were the hardest times. When life was no longer safe for us, I wanted a better future for my daughter.”
Essra described the sacrifices she made to save up to pay smugglers to take her across the Mediterranean to Europe. She never saw the smugglers until the day of the trip. She said she was smuggled from a house in Zuwara into a big container near the shore. When she boarded the boat with her daughter, she felt reassured by her decision to leave. But then, disaster struck when the boat capsized.
“I lost everything on that boat. My daughter slipped right through my fingers. She was only two years old and I couldn’t save her from the water. I tried to hold on to her as long as I could, but 1,000 Libyan dinar ($750) cost me the life of my daughter.”
Now, back in Libya, Essra is without papers and passport as everything was lost at sea. She is now a detainee at the Surman detention center.
“I would like to go home to my sister. But how do I move forward from here?”