The desperates of Tripoli dream of Italy

The desperates of Tripoli dream of Italy

(Tripoli) “All of us, blacks, we want to go to Italy in the life boats. But when Matteo Salvini arrived he blocked all the migration routes”, explains Leonel, who has come from Cameroon and speaks the Italian language. Together with dozens of his countrymen, who risk being arrested in Libya, he waits for a daily work offer given to him by the Libyans. For this reason the migrants are located at an intersection in Fashlun Square, just a few kilometers from the frontline in the suburbs of Tripoli. Asides from the civil war, the problems for migrants are always the same. “I learnt your language working for nine months with a firm from Bergamo contracted by the Mitiga airport in Tripoli, but once the war started the Italians returned home”, the Cameroon migrant recounts with sorrow. The other misfortunate companions in the group call him the “Italian” and demonstrate a good understanding of the politics of Italy’s minister of the Interior. “We want to cross the sea – explains Leonel – but the route is stopped in large sections. Salvini has blocked it.” He then makes a hand gesture of striking down an axe.

Ghassam Salamè, the UN envoy for Libya, visiting Italy, said that “700 thousand non-Libyan citizens live in the territory, but not everyone wants to leave and cross the Mediterranean.” Between 15 and 20 thousand migrants might be detained in government centers awaiting repatriation. On Tuesday the detention center of Qasr Ben Gashir, in the area conquered by the troops of General Haftar (which also received verbal support from Donald Trump), was attacked by armed militiamen. The raid in which they stole mobile phones and the few belongings the migrants have resulted in six casualties and a dozen injuries.

“We are afraid. We are forced to leave for Italy. At the moment it is not safe to stay in Libya,” explains Jean Castel, also from Cameroon, wearing a baseball cap and sleeveless jacket. Gaetan is one of his compatriots: “The Libyan Coast Guard stopped me two times in 2017 and 2018 taking me to the detention centers. I can’t do it anymore. I just want to get enough money to go back home, to Cameroon.” In Libya since 2013, he claims to have seen terrible scenes, but they are hard to prove: “One of the jailers told a Nigerian that his head was worth four thousand dollars. He didn’t have the money. Then he sprayed him with gasoline and set him on fire. He burned alive before my eyes.”

For now the hostilities have diminished the clandestine departures. In the first two weeks of the war, only one life boat was intercepted. “Now they no longer leave because the traffickers are militant or are protected by the militias. And they are all busy on the Tripoli front,” explains a coast guard source, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. Since the beginning of the conflict the Navy command and Nawassi brigade, which control the area of the Abu Sitta base where the Italian military ship Capri is also moored, insist on patrolling the coasts in search of infiltration by the Haftar troops or the loading of weapons. So much so that the patrol boats donated have been armed by hand. “The fight against illegal immigration has faded into the background – explains the source for InsideOver – If we find a life boat we don’t let it sink. However we can’t bring the illegal migrants to Tripoli as it is a war zone. We take them to Khoms or Zwuara.”

The migrants are joined by 34,000 displaced Libyans who, if they fail to return to their homes, may choose the sea route to Italy along with the war refugees. “Before leaving Cameroon they told me that Libya and Italy were a paradise – recalls Gaetan who now wants to return to Cameroon – It is not so. This country is hell.”