Tunisia: "I prefer dying in Libya to dying here"

Tunisia 2011 © Eric Bouvet/ VII Network

Abdul spent four months in a Libyan prison. He escaped, spent three days walking in the Sahara, and ended up in Shousha camp.

Some 3,000 sub-Saharan Africans are stranded in camps at the Tunisian border with Libya. Most had fled violence or repression in their own countries in search of work in Libya. Due to the war, they had to flee. But due to the situations in their native countries, they cannot be repatriated, and are therefore stuck where they are, their futures uncertain.

Many had been detained while they were in Libya. Others have lost relatives—parents, husbands, wives, or children. Some were physically injured. Some have endured severe psychological trauma. And now tensions are building in Shousha, the unsurprising result of the collective circumstances of the people in the camps. Despite past experiences, many would actually prefer to go back to Libya. Despite the dangers, many would rather risk the perilous and sometimes fatal journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been working in the camps for several months, offering medical and psychological care, and collecting testimonies such as this one: 

Abdul, 23, spent four months in a desert prison in Libya before escaping to Shousha camp on the Tunisian border. Fearing insecurity in Shousha, he says he is ready to go back to Libya.

"I have seen too many dead people in my country. When I was 15, I was left to live in the streets. I cannot talk about my life in Ivory Coast. Even my friends don't know about my story.

I left Ivory Coast in 2008. I traveled through many countries to escape my own.

When I arrived in Libya, the military arrested me and brought me to prison, in the middle of the desert. There were hundreds of us there. Every day, people were dying.

I spent three months and 30 days in prison. I was beaten every day. For three weeks, I could not stand up. I still suffer from my injuries. I had to bury seven people, including three pregnant girls. If you did not do it, you were thrown alive in the hole along with the corpses.

At times, we were given only five liters of salty water for hundreds of prisoners. We had to drink it drop by drop. We did not have enough to eat. But we were not allowed to complain. We had to hide our diseases, or we risked further beating. There was not even enough space for us to sleep; we were crammed inside a room too small. There was no toilet.

It is a miracle I am still alive. I never thought I would see light again. I was looking at people dying, the brutality, the violence. I was waiting for my turn.

One night, there was a desert storm. The prison's ceiling was shaking. We managed to break out of prison. Policemen chased us with land cruisers and dogs. But I managed to escape and spent three days walking in the Sahara.

I will never forget one of the prisoners, a Gambian man. His foot had been broken and he could not escape. He was crying for help. But we were between life and death. Everyone had to try to save their lives.

When I arrived in the city of Sabah, I met a fellow Ivoirian. He helped me. I could not do anything for months. I was sick, I was having nightmares. It was very difficult.

Life in Libya was hard. We were robbed repeatedly. They broke our door, they took our papers. We had no rights. It is a lawless country.

I have been in Shousha camp for four months now. During the May incidents in the camp, I saw more than 15 people injured while some people died. I was injured in the foot by a tear gas shell. I fear for my security here, too.

We lead the life of tramps here. Some of us have gone back to Ivory Coast. Some have returned to Libya. I cannot go home. If I could, I would not stay in this camp. I prefer dying in Libya than dying here. I am ready to go back, even if I die."