“I lost my baby”: A footballer forced to flee war and violence

Hände eines Geretteten, im Hintergrund noch andere Menschen von hinten, sitzend an Bord der Humanity 1
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

Demsy* wanted to become a footballer. But he had to flee the Ivory Coast in 2011. He ended up in Tunisia, from where he fled on a boat across the central Mediterranean in the summer of 2023. There, the crew of the Humanity 1 was able to rescue him. On board, he tells his story and his big plans for the future.

*name changed and not shown on the pictures.

My name is Demsy and I am from the Ivory Coast. I used to play football there for a first division team in Abidjan. I was training with them when the war started. The situation was chaotic, there were murders, shootings. We had to flee the country. So I am actually a war refugee.

I left the country with a friend in 2011. She was just twelve years old. Her parents had no money or anything else, so we went to Tunisia. I lived in Tunis, the capital, for four or five years. Nothing came of my football career. It’s difficult in Tunisia, with the paperwork. So I went to work with my friends to earn a bit of money to defend myself.

Tunisia caused me a lot of problems. They don’t grant asylum, you don’t get a residence permit, nothing. When you come to Tunisia, they spit on you, call you “N****”. I work, I get robbed, my money gets stolen, I go to the police. But the police never do anything. On the contrary, the police encourage the perpetrators to continue.

In the meantime, we were in Sfax because Tunis was causing us too many problems. I went to work in the morning and was attacked in the evening. They spat at me, attacked me. It was no use at all. If you try to make a phone call, they come and snatch your phone away. If you fight back, the Tunisians start beating you.

One day I went to football training. My wife was pregnant, she was at home and I told her that she wasn’t allowed to leave the house. The Tunisians ask her to come out. She says my husband is not there, I can’t go out.

When I came back, they had beaten my wife. They beat her up, her abdomen was bleeding, she was vomiting. She was beaten up for no reason.

My wife has all the evidence on her phone. They just beat her up. A pregnant woman.

Wait, I’ll show you something on my mobile phone. It’s another woman. She’s pregnant, they beat her, she had a stillbirth. Do you see the blood? She’s pregnant, they beat her. It was in Sfax. You will see the baby. It’s not my wife, but it’s the same story: A house is broken into, a pregnant woman is beaten and the police say nothing.

We went to the hospital. But the doctors told me there was no room for her.

I lost my baby.

[Recording pause]

That was the reason why I left Tunisia with my wife. We were also hunted by the Tunisian police. If they catch you, they send you to the desert.

I went into the bush with my wife, into the olive groves. We hid there for four days, with nothing but biscuits, until the police left. I didn’t eat anything.

Braunes, leeres Metallboot im Wasser bei Nacht.
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

Then a friend called me and said: Come on, we’ll go to Italy if we get on a boat.

I thought: There are risks everywhere. It’s not legal. But what was I supposed to do? If I stay here, they’ll kill me. So I have to go on board to see if I can get to Italy.

So my wife, my friend and I left Sfax. There were 45 of us in total. We pooled together to pay for the boat.

We left on Monday morning, at seven or eight o’clock. It wasn’t easy on the boat. Because there are a lot of dangerous waves. Everyone knows it’s very risky. Normally, no one should be on one of these metal boats. But given the situation in the country, we had no choice. On Tuesday, at two or three in the afternoon, the crew of Humanity 1 found us.

I have big plans for the future. I’m a footballer, I used to play in the premier league. When you see me play, you can tell straight away that I’m a professional. I’ve measured myself against champions. I’m a striker, I can play on the left or the right.

I would like to know if there are people who can help me – me and my wife, who is a hairdresser. I would like to find a club where I can do a few trial training sessions. I would like to go to Germany. That’s my dream.

This interview was carried out in French, recorded and translated by Sasha Ockenden, SOS Humanity’s Communications Coordinator on board Humanity 1.

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