As a refugee in one of Libya’s dangerous detention centres, I know what it feels like when the world leaves you behind

In the eyes of the guards that lord over us, we left our human dignity and respect behind when we attempted to seek safety. Not only are we scared and starving, but the threat of another attack looms over us every day

Mario Malie
Monday 15 July 2019 10:14
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Migrants gather in aftermath of airstrike in Tripoli, Libya

I am a refugee detained on the dangerous front lines of Tripoli’s conflict.

There is barely any food and clean water. There is no rest with the noise of heavy weapons. Even now, the guards abuse us.

I feel terrible about the loss of my brothers and sisters two weeks ago, who had been detained for years in Tajoura camp just waiting for relocation and to get their freedom, before they were killed in an air strike. It is a crime I can’t forget. Who is responsible for their death?

We panic every day. We are dying slowly, because of too much depression and starvation. Thinking too much makes it hard for me to sleep. I'm always conscious of the airplanes which come in the night.

Just behind our centre falls a lot of bombs. Continuous bombing is very disturbing. The manager of our detention centre gave us no information about transferring to a safer place – really, I don’t know what they are thinking. I’ve never been intimidated before like I am now. Since I want to act like a man, I hide it inside.

I think about how I began this life of confinement. November 23, 2017 was the blackest day of my life. That’s the day I was taken from the Mediterranean Sea by the Libyan coastguard. We were close to Italy, and my only desire was to step onto the promised land and call my panicked mother.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen for me. We were taken to a detention centre on the coast called Khoms Souq al Khamise. It wasn’t my first time living under confinement, because I experienced a lot of persecution and torture in my own country, Eritrea. I didn’t expect it in Libya, but it started from the first day we were in Khoms. I was introduced to starvation, slavery, molestation, and became a victim: always distraught from what might be coming. It’s hard to pass a single day.

The staff of the detention centre sold 18 of our brothers to smugglers. This happened after a week in that centre, when the guards told people to “go for work.” When someone went out for work they didn’t come back. We had a hidden phone and found out they were being ransomed.

After two months in Khoms, we were transferred to Tripoli, to a detention centre called Triq al Sikka.

Triq al Sikka detention centre was like hell, with a crowded mob huddled in a cage. All the sleeping places were infested with bed bugs and insects. It was always dark, with no fresh air to inhale.

The hall was so warm that you would profusely sweat all the time. All African immigrants are persecuted there, but the biggest problems were for Eritreans and Somalis – since we couldn’t be repatriated to our home countries. The UNHCR registered us in order to resettle us to Niger. We were forced to stay in confinement for prolonged periods of time.

We became vulnerable to diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis C. A lack of medical services in that centre causes death. I have no more words to explain the situation there.

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After eight difficult months at the centre, I was transferred to another because of the lack of space, but it is the same thing here. The guards treat us with beatings and abusive words. I have tried to come to the understanding that, in their eyes at least, we left our human dignity and respect behind. I feel like I am a modern slave since I have been forced to work all day without any money.

We don’t get enough food each day. The majority of the time we get one meal a day, a dish of macaroni. At times they completely forget to give us a meal for two or three days. Most of us are underweight, with slim bodies.

Tuberculosis infections are rising because of overcrowding, and those infected don’t get regular medical treatment. Things have now become critical, so some who get weak die. They never get proper burial services.

The conflict and chaos in Libya is becoming worse and worse. All of us are in a period of despair. Our centre is a front line so we’re always afraid of being targeted. We get no sleep at all with the noise of heavy weapons. It’s beyond my words to explain all the sorrow and endless suffering.

We’re tired of being the victims of brutality; victims of hate and shame. I hate that my fate is like this. I don’t know how many years we can spend in confinement, only God knows.

Mario Malie is using a pseudonym for his protection

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