Tunisia: "In Libya, we were treated like slaves"

Mouhaydin, 27, worked as a laborer and a cleaner in Libya before the war. He arrived at Shousha camp in March with his wife. She died on a boat to Europe in April. 

Tunisia 2011 © Eric Bouvet/ VII Network

Mouhaydin is one of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans stranded at refugee camps on the Tunisian-Libyan border.

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: 

Mouhaydin, 27, from Somalia, was working as a laborer and a cleaner in Libya. He arrived in Shousha in March. His wife died on a boat to Europe.

"I left Somalia in 1994 because of the war. When my father was killed, my family fled to Ethiopia. They still live there. I am the eldest child and need to support my family. I decided to go to Libya and beyond, to find work and build a future.

I arrived in Libya eight years ago. I was working as a laborer and a cleaner. Life was difficult. We were treated like slaves.

When the war broke out, the situation became very frightening for foreigners. I had to flee this country too.

I arrived in Shousha camp on March 6, with my wife. We got married in Libya. She was three months pregnant. One day, she decided to return to Libya with a group of people who convinced her to take a boat to Europe. I saw her one morning, and never saw her again. She died on a sinking ship on April 5.

I am very sorry she didn't tell me of her plans. I have been deeply sad since. I try to occupy my mind not to think. I have difficulties sleeping at night.

I keep myself busy working as a volunteer for Medecins Sans Frontieres, responsible for the registration of patients seeking medical care. In Somalia, I worked for eight years with MSF before the war. I am also a translator from Somali to French, as there are many Somalis in the camp who need assistance.

Life in the camp is becoming increasingly difficult, in particular since the incidents in May. Tents were burnt down and violent clashes killed and injured a number of refugees. For children, the living conditions are even tougher.

I have an uncle in Canada. I hope he can help me. I need to find a solution, a small place in a country where I can live in peace, and finally have a future."