Libya: Personal accounts from survivors of the shipwreck

16 Sep 2018
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More than a hundred people reportedly died in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast one week ago, Survivors told Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams working in Libya. A group of 276 people, among them survivors of the shipwreck, were brought from the sea to the port city of Khoms (120 kilometres east of Tripoli) by the Libyan coast guard on Sunday 2 September. MSF has been providing urgent medical assistance following disembarkation.

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The mother said: “We run away only because we don’t feel safe in Libya. We are afraid of human trafficking. People are afraid here. There is no freedom for us. My boy was born in prison”

The 10 years old boy: “I’m here with my mother and my little sister. We took the sea to go to Europe. We spent many hours at sea. We didn’t have any water to drink so we were drinking salty water. I was thinking that the Italian coast guard would rescue us but finally, we saw the Libyans coming and they brought us back. I saw the bodies of two people who died during the crossing and many people were crying.”



“On the boat there were many elderly, many women and children. Only some had life jackets. Most of the people don’t know how to swim. Imagine you go to sea and you don’t know how to swim. They drowned straightaway. I remember the corps floating. There was also a Libyan family with us. They have lost their daughter [in the shipwreck]."


“We called for help, I was telling to the woman on the phone : “please come and rescue us”. She couldn’t speak Arabic, she was speaking English. I was repeating: please there are a lot of children and women”. It was already late. People started to drown. I passed the phone to another person next to me. A lot of people died. Why they didn’t rescue us?

We saw a plane. They gave us life rafts and we started to enter inside. I was screaming, calling for help. Everybody in that boat was trying to save his own life. I lost my husband, but thanks to God, I’m still alive. I was not wearing a life jacket, but there was one woman next to me, she only had only one leg, and I remember she didn’t know how to use her life vest and she didn’t know how to swim. I helped her to put it on and I have managed to save myself thanks to her, holding on to her live jacket. Finally I entered in a small life raft that the plane threw to us and I saved myself."



“We left Libya in a rubber dinghy in the night. We were rescued by the Libyan coast guard. We called the Italian authorities and they sent the Libyans to bring us back. While we were sailing we had a problem with our dingy, it was very hot and the dinghy was deflating. Also at one point the engine stopped. On the boat there were a lot of children, pregnant women and families. We struggled to survive. We were in the water next to dead bodies.

Europe should know what we are going through: we cannot stay in Libya. It’s very dangerous for us. On my left leg, I have a gun shot. My friends helped me to collect money as I wanted to go to Europe to find treatment for my leg. They told me its 10.000 Libyan dinar. I don’t have that money.

This is my story, but there are many different stories here. We are not criminals, we are not thieves. We are struggling to survive. I feel very sad and disappointed. It’s painful. I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know my left and my right any more. I don’t know where I will go tomorrow. We need help, and we have been locked up as prisoners. I don’t know why they keep sending people back to Libya. We are running away from here. I am not asking the Italian government to accept all of us to their country, but don’t send us back to Libya.


“Why are people brought back here? I ask this question to Europe. Why the Italians didn’t rescue us? It’s inhumane that we were left all that time at sea. We left from a place close to Tripoli in the night, around 1AM and around 12PM people start falling down in the water.

There was a [European] plane that was over us and they managed to pull out some life rafts. I was there, I saw people dying. We called the rescue, a woman responded to our call and she asked our position. Less than 100 people survived. There were many children on the boat. Most of them died. I would not have gone to sea if there were not a war in Tripoli. I have lived in Libya for 10 years and I was working in Tajoura. You cannot move freely now there. I know this country. I have lived here for 10 years. Even if Europe didn’t want to give us asylum, they should not leave us dying at sea”

“We were abandoned at sea. People lost hope. Why did we let people die at sea? They have all the means to rescue us. We are all humans. If we try to go to Europe, it’s to have a better life. People will keep continuing taking journey by sea. There are people who are escaping war, others are escaping poverty; people should be rescued and later on each individual case is looked at. We are not in Libya to stay here, we want to go to Europe. We are not criminals

“The man next to me didn’t know how to read the coordinates, so I took the phone and I read the coordinates. I was really happy that we were close to Malta. We ran out from this place. How can we live here? We don’t have security here. I have stayed for 2 years in Libya. I have been in Tripoli for the last three months. Did you see the situation there? I’m so tired and I don’t feel safe. Why they keep us here? Look at me, my body is not the same anymore.


“The sun was really strong and the boat started to deflate. All the babies died. How can we stay so many hours in the water without being rescued? People started to drink salty water. Why they left us die at sea?”

MSF reiterates its call to stop returning to Libya people who flee by sea, to end the arbitrary detention of thousands of refugees and migrants across the country and scale ways to evacuate them to safety out of the country.

All Photos © Sara Creta/MSF