Abdirizak Mohamed Mohamoud, 30, returned to his home village of Lafaisa, in the Jijiga zone of eastern Ethiopia, six months ago, after his attempt to reach Europe and a better life turned into an ordeal. He talked to IRIN, as well as a roomful of curious neighbours and friends, about his experiences as a migrant in Libya.
“I wasn’t satisfied with life here. I was a teacher, but I wasn’t earning enough to support my family. I had friends who had gone to Libya and then to Italy, but I only got as far as Libya.
“I crossed the border of Ethiopia into Sudan; then I crossed the Sahara in a lorry with 160 other people. All of the others were from Somalia – I was the only Ethiopian. One lorry broke down, then another came and took us the rest of the way.
“I paid the driver US$1,000 – money I got from all of my family and friends – but when we arrived in Libya, the driver wanted another $1,200 and held all of us hostage in his home on a big farm for two days.
“He gave me a cell phone and told me to call my family to get the money. He only got money from 10 individuals, even though he tortured us with electric shocks. I told my mother to send money but before it came, the Libyan police came and arrested all of us, including the driver.
“We were taken to a prison in Benghazi where there were about 900 Africans – Nigerians, Somalis, Eritreans and Congolese. After three months we thought we were going to die there. Some were tortured and some tried to kill themselves. We broke out by force, overwhelming the guards, and escaped, but some local people caught me and returned me to the jail. I spent one more month there before they transferred me to a Tripoli prison, where I spent two months.
“Then they transferred me again to a place called Katron, near the border with Niger, in the Sahara. I was there for a month with 320 Somali people before we escaped again. I found some people from Chad in Katron and stayed with them for 15 days and called my family to send money. My brother sent $300 to someone he knows in Tripoli, but that money paid only for me to be smuggled from Katron to Tripoli.
“I worked as a porter in Tripoli for 18 months, just to save money to get home. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so afraid of being robbed; the only safe place to sleep was on graves. I managed to save $700 and pooled my savings with 14 friends to pay a smuggler to take us through Niger and into Chad. We left just before the uprising [in Libya] started.
“In Chad, people were dying of hunger and UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] refused to help us because they were busy helping the local people who were starving. We went on to Darfur in Sudan and UNHCR flew us to Khartoum and then to the Ethiopian border. I was very happy to get home after two years and two months.
“By the time I got back, one of my sisters had already left for Saudi [Arabia] to work as a housemaid. If I had got back in time, I would have told her not to go.
“I’m an example for my village – if I had succeeded, all the others would have gone. I don’t have a job now, I’m surviving by Allah, but even if I got a visa for Europe or the United States, I wouldn’t go – I’m dying here.”