“I wished that we would all die together”

Ein Kind im Hintergrund bläst Seifenblasen an Bord der Humanity 1.
Laurin Schmid / SOS Humanity

Bader and Jasina*, both from Syria, fled from Libya together with their five children. Crossing the Central Mediterranean was the only option for them to escape the spiral of violence. In January 2024, they were rescued by the crew of Humanity 1.

*Names changed and survivors not shown in the pictures. 

Bader: We were in Libya for a long time: my wife left Syria in 2012, I left in 2009. We got married and had five children.  

The situation in Libya became crazy. Because there’s a lot of racism towards Syrian people. People asked: why are you here? You are taking money from our country, and so on. If we tried to find a job, they didn’t want to give us jobs. Or if they did, it was very, very little money.

The biggest issue was: in the school that our eldest son went to, kids were getting kidnapped.

So we decided: this is not safe. We are not going to put our children in school here. And then, there’s no future. Kids are not getting an education. They can’t work. In March 2023, we began trying to leave Libya. 

The smugglers lure you in by saying, ‘The boat is going to be tomorrow, but you have to pay everything today. So we paid a lot of money thinking that it’s going to be like tomorrow or the next day. For the first smuggler, we had to wait three months in a warehouse, until May, and every day they said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be tomorrow, oh, we need more money’.  

In the warehouse, no one was allowed in or out. They brought food, but only every 3 or 4 days. Rice and cheese, and one piece of bread, for months. It was very hard to control the kids because they kept saying, the kids have to be silent, but they were playing and running around. I was struggling with what to tell the kids, because I did not want to say we were in prison. If the kids made noise, the militias would come and start yelling at them, hitting and kicking me to try to silence them. I was getting beaten so much because of this.  

Jasina: They were so aggressive with the kids. One time we were ordered to put tape on their mouths to keep them quiet.

Sometimes, in the warehouse, I wished that we would all die together.

Because I couldn’t take care of my kids and the only way out I could see was for all of us to die together. I was always scared to sleep. I had a lot of nightmares of shootings. 

We all got to know each other, we helped each other. But it was very, very risky. After several months, the smuggler told us to head to the beach. But there was no boat. This was the first scam.  

Meer und blauer Himmel und in der Ferne ein braunes Flüchtlingsboot mit Menschen an Bord.
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

Bader: In August, we tried again. We paid half the money in advance. We were told it was a big fishing boat, safe for kids and families. They told us: because the big ship cannot come so close, you have to ride first in the small boat to get to the big fishing boat. This was the next scam. 

The small boat was only 12 meters long and 2 meters wide, and there were 165 people on board. After 10 minutes, because the boat was overcrowded, it flipped over from the waves. The water was not so deep, but a lot of people didn’t know how to swim. So the men who could swim shuttled the kids and women to the beach and came back again. Our kids were scattered, and it was very scary, very chaotic. 

We went from smuggler to smuggler, we paid a lot of money. The next smuggler, when we got to his house, we stayed there for a day or two. He wanted to harass my wife. He opened the door where she was sleeping. He said: ‘I want to sleep here in this room.’ We said, well, the house is big. He was like, ‘you don’t talk, you don’t tell me what to do, you are basically a slave. You are Syrian. You have no dignity. Your women are cheap.’ He hit me in the head. 

There was almost no food. I was struggling so much to get food, especially for the kids.

I used to risk going out every night after everyone was asleep, because the kids need to eat more than every few days, they need milk and other things. There was no furniture at all, only blankets. And there was water always leaking from the ceilings. It wasn’t allowed to put lights on. We had to stay in the dark.

Finally, we were told once again: there is a boat. 

Jasina: Our kids were being suppressed the whole time, and now they feel free. Now that we’re safe here [on board], I feel like it’s okay to tell them to go play. They have space to breathe because before that, there was always tension.  

Mädchen bläst Seifenblasen an Bord der Humanity 1
SOS Humanity; Crossing Mediterranean Sea to Italy

My daughter is one year and two months old. Her father and I are surprised: she’s jumping on our backs and laughing. We are so happy. For the first time, our little girl runs to us every morning to hug us, and this never happened in recent times. And the kids are saying, we don’t want to go back to the warehouse, we want to stay here on the ship.  

For the future, we wish for stability, security, and for the kids to get an education. We want them to eat proper food and to sleep at regular times, to have toys – to have a normal life.

I just asked the kids if they’re happy. They said: ‘So happy!’. 

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