Already this year, more than 10,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, in the hope of finding a better life.
It’s a journey fraught with danger. In 2018 alone, more than 460 people have died or gone missing making the crossing. But there are other hazards for those trying to reach the Mediterranean through Libya.
Yet even with these dangers awaiting them, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) estimates there are up to 1 million migrants currently in Libya. So why would anyone risk so much, and what’s it like to make the journey?
In December 2017, CNN spent 11 days aboard a migrant rescue boat in the Mediterranean. Run by Spanish humanitarian organization Proactiva, it picked up 695 migrants from 27 countries who had set sail from Libya and had run into problems at sea.
CNN spoke with some of the migrants on board. Many spoke of abuse in Libya. Here are some of the stories they told us.
Rimon, 35, and Genvieve, 30, from Egypt
Rimon and Genvieve are Egyptians who have lived in Libya for 20 years. They attempted the crossing to Italy with their son Fernando and 10 other family members.
In Libya, Rimon worked as an English and French teacher, and Genvieve was a translator for a Turkish company. They earned good money and had comfortable lives, but they say that after the Libyan revolution of 2011, the country became unsafe, especially for Christians like them.
“The situation was not secure,” said Genvieve. “Many crimes were happening around us – many stealing, many raping, many weapons, no education. Very dangerous for our kids.”
“Christians are not welcome there,” she added. “ISIS are there and they kidnap them and kill them. Two of our friends were kidnapped in Misrata, and they would have been killed.”
They first tried to sail from Libya a few months earlier, but say they were picked up by the Libyan coast guard, and taken to what they were told was a health center. They say they were able to leave after one day, “Because we are white and Arab people.” Genvieve added: “Black people stay.”
In Tripoli, they said all migrants risk being tortured and robbed, regardless of ethnicity.
Each family member paid 3,000 dinars (roughly $2,250) for a place on a migrant smuggler’s boat. They were at sea for six hours before being rescued. They say they knew it would be dangerous, but they felt the risk was worth it.
“Our hope to have a better life was larger than the risk … our children were unhappy. They need to go out, see other children, play with them, educate well and learn about other religions.”
Fekadu, 38, from Ethiopia
Fekadu is from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, an area that has seen anti-government protests against marginalization of ethnic Oromos.
“The government now don’t like Oromo people,” he said. “There is no democracy. If there were democracy, I would be in Ethiopia.”
He left Ethiopia in 2016, traveling first to South Sudan, then to Sudan and on to Chad. He says he was arrested at the border between Chad and Libya and imprisoned in Libya.
He managed to escape but later spent two months in an underground prison in Zawiya, where he says he was beaten and tortured. Sometimes, he says, his captors would pour melted plastic onto his body.
His family paid $800 for his release, he says.
“There is no police, there is no government. It’s a big problem for Libya, and for Africa,” he said.
Samee, 26, from Islamabad, Pakistan
Samee arrived in Libya in January 2016 and found work at a concrete plant. But after a few months, he says, he was kidnapped and held captive for around a month in Tripoli.
His family paid €5,000 ($6,150) for his release. After that he worked in Libya for another year, before again being imprisoned.
He says he was kidnapped four times in Libya. Each time, his family would get into debt to secure his release. “My mother is always crying, because she says people are always coming to my home because they want the money again.
“That’s why I took this chance. I go to Italy, and earn money to support my family.”
Koné, 18, from Ivory Coast
Kone is the oldest daughter in a farming family. She said that back home, her family were spending all their money sending her to a private school and she thought it would be better if she and her sister went to find work in Europe.
The two left Ivory Coast in June 2017, having paid a people smuggler $2,200 to get them to Europe. Kone says they traveled through Mali and Algeria before reaching Libya after almost three weeks on the road.
In Libya, they say they were imprisoned by bandits, beaten and barely fed, before their family sent $1,100 to pay for their release.
She says a friend of hers was raped in Libya, but made it back to the Ivory Coast.
Now Kone plans to work in Europe as a beautician, but says she has no friends or contacts there.
Muhammad, 22, from Somalia
Muhammad said he left Somalia because it was too dangerous. “There is no real government. It’s just state of clans,” he explained.
He hoped for better opportunities in Europe.
“Europe is freedom,” he said. “You get education, you get a job, you get freedom. Then I hope to become a good man, helping the poor people to get educated.”
His journey from Somalia to Libya took six months. He was held in three private prisons in Libya, where he says he was beaten, given electric shocks and sometimes went without food.
He says in prison he witnessed a woman being raped by 10 men.
“You can’t do anything,” he says. “You have to close your eyes, because you can’t look. It’s the worst thing. I will never forget.”
He says his family paid a ransom of $8,250 for him to be released from one prison and $7,300 from another.
He wants other migrants to know of the dangers awaiting them in Libya.
“I tell people … never come through Libya, because it’s dangerous.”
Wisdom, 41, from Nigeria
Wisdom spent four years and three months in Libya in all. He found paying work in the country, but says he was also captured and made to pay for his release. He had tried to reach Italy twice before.
On his last attempt his boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard. He says they beat him and other migrants and told them they must pay $2,000 to be released. He says those who couldn’t pay were detained, tortured or passed on to criminal gangs.
Other migrants on board the rescue boat said the Libyan coast guard had been complicit in their abuse.
The UN Security Council has found the Libyan coast guard to be “directly involved in such grave human rights violations against migrants.”
But the commander of the Libyan coast guard says that all allegations against them are false.
In a telephone conversation with CNN, Abu Ajala Amer Abdel-Bari said: “We save people from the water and we turn them into official places under the Libyan Interior Ministry, who all work with recognized organizations like the IOM.”
Libya has announced measures to tackle the abuse of migrants in the country.
Last year, Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a committee to investigate the auctions of migrants and Libya’s Interior Minister, Al-Aref Al-Khouja, said he had launched an investigation into human rights abuses against migrants in detention.
“We will not be complacent with those who violate these rules and principles of humanitarian treatment, whether it’s with our own citizens, or any foreigners, and this is a global humanitarian demand which people will not accept anything less than,” Al-Khouja said in a news conference.
While there are many proposals to better protect migrants, powerful reasons still exist for people to their leave homes in hope of a better life. That means it’s likely many migrants will still be willing to risk the journey, no matter the danger.