Two migrants narrate their experiences of migration to Pope Francis

I slept, hoping to die – testimony by Daniel Jude Oukeguale

Caro Papa Francesco, I am Daniel and I come from Nigeria.

I left my hometown 5 years ago. After 13 days of travelling, we arrived at the desert. While crossing, we passed dead people and animals, burnt cars and a lot of empty water cans. After 8 traumatic days in the desert, we made it to Libya.

Those who still owed money to the smugglers were locked up and tortured until they paid their dues. Some lost their lives; some lost their senses. I was lucky enough not be among them. At the time Libya was in turmoil; flying bullets became companions, and we were surrounded by violence. To travel from one place to another we were loaded like sardines to conceal us from the police.

We were at risk of kidnapping. I paid smugglers twice and was promised to be put on a boat to Europe, but the trips were cancelled, and we didn’t get the money back. The conditions were terrible and unhygienic. I managed to find work in Libya as a plasterer to pay for another crossing. Finally, I got into a 2mx10m rubber boat, we were over 100 people.

We sailed for over 17 hours before an Italian ship rescued us. I was excited and full of joy. People were kneeling to give thanks to God only to discover that the ship was sailing back to Libya. We were handed over to the Libyan coastguard and put in the Ain Zara detention centre. The worst place to spend one single day.

After a month, I started working as a plasterer with a policeman. He gave us food and shelter. He was really kind and set us free on condition that we worked for his brother from whom we later escaped since he refused to pay us.

Nine months later, I was again on a boat. During the first night, we encountered high waves. Four fell off from the boat but we only managed to rescue two. We were all scared to death!

I almost lost hope at that point. I slept, hoping to die.

Woke up the next day, things were calm. People smiling again. Fresh hopes!! We continued to sail until we met Tunisian fishermen who gave us bread, milk and water and call for rescue.

Eventually, the ship arrived, but we found out that it was the Tunisian coastguard. Better than spending another night in the Mediterranean.

We landed and were taken to Zarzis, Tunisia. We were given food, clothes and shelter by NGOs.

I remember writing, “Don’t quit” with toothpaste on my room wall close to my bed. One of the staff always told tell me to clean it off but I refused. until one day he brought me a rag and told me he wouldn’t leave until I cleaned it. So I did.

He came back the next day to find the landscape I had drawn on the same wall with a pen. Later they brought me papers and a pen. I drew more and more, and I fell in love with art. I even got to work with a Tunisian artist for a bit before returning to Libya with two others. Although Libya is horrible it is easier to cross the sea from there.

I started working again until I earned enough money to pay for yet another try I had put all my hopes in this. This time, after 3 days at sea I made it to Malta; this was the sixth time I had paid smugglers.

It was all smiles when the Maltese coastguard rescued us. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Tears of joy flowing freely. My dreams came true!

But these were short lived since we were put in detention for 6 months the same night we landed. I almost lost my mind. Most nights I asked God “why?!”

Sometimes I cried! Sometimes I wished I had died. I was wondering if all this journey was a mistake. Why were men like us treating us like criminals and not like brothers?

After this time we were brought to the open centre at Hal Far just behind your back. Took me sometime to adapt, detention drained me. But within weeks, I started getting better, and I started living with a renewed hope and not my life is better thanks to those persons who helped me along the way.

My thoughts go to my brothers and sisters who are still in custody, and I ask myself when will they obtain freedom?

Thank you Holy Father for listening me. Unfortunately, still today, many persons who escape from war and famine have a story similar to mine.

Many exploit the vulnerabilities of those who are struggling for a better life – testimony by Siriman Coulibaly

Carissimo Papa Francesco, my name is Siriman Colibaly. I have been living in Malta for the past 4 years and my wife is expecting a baby. Thank you for choosing to meet us here, at the Peace Lab in Ħal Far. Not many people in the world know about this place. Ħal Far has been a living place for many of us migrants in Malta. We know it well, for many of us it is a place of invisibility, a place of non-being.

None of us leave our homelands because of lack of love for our countries. On the contrary, our journeys are journeys that start in hope of finding a safe space. We flee war, violent conflict, violations of human rights. Few realise that we also leave cultivating a dream in our own heart; to reach a land where violence is unthinkable, where people in all their diversity are accepted for who they are, our dream is called Freedom, it is also called Democracy. We believe in this and many of us thought that Europe is that kind of place.

When you run away from a situation of war, conflict and extreme poverty, you have nothing except for your determination to live a better life and a lot of courage and resilience to face all the challenges you encounter.

Unfortunately, many of us are not seen in the fullness of their humanity. Many appreciate our struggles and are a refuge for us. However, others take advantage of the vulnerability of people who are struggling and are in desperate situations. Women, men, children, and unaccompanied children easily become victims of exploitation and abuse and are not treated with the dignity every human being deserves.

Unfortunately, many of us are not seen in the fullness of their humanity. Many appreciate our struggles and help us to find a safe refuge. However, many exploit the vulnerabilities of those who are struggling for a better life. Women, men, children and unaccompanied minors easily become victims of exploitation and abuse and are not treated with the dignity every person deserves. Human dignity is not always taken for granted. Many of us have experienced that on their own skin. For many this meant years of suffering and uncertainty. The fullness of respect for all human rights is an upwards struggle that continues in many countries. Today we want to remind people in decision making positions and who hold power, that human rights and dignity are universal and inherent, they are acknowledged and respected never given. We are Fratelli tutti right?

Amongst other things I am referring to the way we are treated when we, the lucky ones, manage to reach safety and we spend a long period of time with little information and living in uncertainty of what our immediate future holds. There are people whose asylum claim has been rejected yet still cannot go back to their country of origin as it is still dangerous for them to do so, those referred to as the Sans Papier, and end up stuck with little or nowhere to go, with little or no rights at all. These are not just stories and numbers, but they are us, people in flesh and blood, faces some with broken dreams, others who have managed to achieve them.

We know that you are aware of these situations and that you are a strong voice for our struggles. We know that your love is not lip service but sincere, and that is why we are here together in Ħal Far with my brothers and sisters, and representatives of organisations that offer services to us here in Malta. I thank you for your tireless work for us and for the love, and respect towards our dreams and aspirations.

I never imagined that, together with my brothers and sisters, I was going to be speaking to Pope Francis, in Ħal Far of all places! What great joy.

Dear Pope Francis, we thank you even for this. Your love is life to us. Thank you.


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