Two Gambian men, who were among dozens of rescued migrants off the coast of Libya on June 23rd, 2018, told of their near drowning experience in the rough waters of the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy bound for Italy.
The two men, Lamin Jobarteh and Nuha Gibba, said they nearly lost their lives before the coastguard came to their rescue.
The men said they paid 30,000 dalasis (approx. USD 625) each to an agent who guaranteed them a safe passage to Italy. The agent then handed them over to the owners of a rubber dinghy.
When they saw the boat, the men expressed concern about the rough waters and number of people the dinghy was carrying, but the captain ignored their concerns. In spite of this, they decided to go because they were desperate to get to Italy after spending several months in Libya.
“We went approximately some 25 kilometres into the sea, precisely at the dangerous waves, then our engine broke down and there was panic everywhere, before we could realise, the boat had capsized and people started to drown,” they explained.
“Luckily for us, we wore life jackets which were very helpful, we managed to hold on but there was chaos everywhere, people started to struggle for dear life. Unfortunately for those who did not wear life jackets, they drowned.”
“Suddenly, a ship carrying coastguard came and rescued us. We thank God for this, we could have all died if this incident had occurred at night,” the men said.
In the aftermath of the rescue operation, they explained that they were cold, exhausted and started to vomit. They lost money, food and other valuable items during the accident.
The men, who are now in a humanitarian camp in Libya where they have been given medical treatment and other assistance, claim that risking everything to try to cross over to Italy and nearly drowning at sea is the worst experience they have ever faced. They also lamented the huge loss of money they incurred during the trip.
Communicating from Libya, the men say they suffer from unbearable xenophobic attacks by Libyans and are now considering returning home voluntarily.
Their experience coincides with the announcement of plans to combat irregular immigration by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior for Irregular Immigration Affairs, Mohammed al-Shibani, reported in the Libya Observer.