Along with about 30 other passengers, he was squeezed into the back of a Toyota Hilux pickup and handed a wooden stick to support his grip for the bumpy trip. “We went through the desert at maximum speed, so much that some people fell off,” Friday said. “The driver leaves anybody who falls off.”
Friday also watched his comrades – most of them Nigerians – die of starvation. He remembers clearly the story of two brothers, twins actually, who said they were from Benin-city. They had stopped in the middle of the desert and the driver had driven off, leaving them without water. By the time he returned, the twins had died of dehydration. “We buried them in the desert,” he said.
Four days after they left Agadez, they arrived in Qatrun, a village in the Murzuq District in Southern Libya. From Qatrun, they proceeded to Sabha.
Now, Sabha, some 770km to the south of Tripoli, has a reputation as the heart of Libya’s smuggling and human trafficking network. Phil Hoad, writing for the Guardian UK last June, said that reputation was unavoidable given the city’s position, “deep in the Libyan desert at the confluence of several migration routes from sub-Saharan Africa.” Ashraf Hassan at the United Nation’s Migration Agency, IOM, described Sabha as the “assembly point” for the dastardly smuggling and trafficking trade.
When they got to Sabha, Friday recollects, everything changed. The drivers, who he described as Tubaos, black Arabs, started to brandish guns and canes to assert their control and they switched to Toyota pickups with tinted glasses. He and some of his friends even tried to escape, but they were caught. “They loaded us into the pickup like we were goats,” he said. “You can’t sit, you have to stand. More than eight people occupied the back seat alone.”
Friday ended up in Ali Ghetto, a prison-place Italian journalist, Alessandra Ziniti, has described as “a fortress in the desert” with “high walls and barbed wire” and “militias armed with machine guns” patrolling its perimeter. He would later learn that their driver had sold them to the prison, claiming that they had been unable to pay their transport fares. “I saw so many black people in Ali Ghetto,” Friday said. “This was where I saw people who looked like stockfish. You won’t even see sunlight.” Some, he said, had degenerated into insanity.
At Ali Ghetto, Friday was not put to work. But every morning, he was served with “Morning Tea” – brutal flogging with a hosepipe. “What they told us was that we had to pay back the money they paid to the driver that brought us; they told me to pay N250,000 and I had to call a relative back in Nigeria to transfer the money in naira,” he said. Read more