Content warning: The following text mentions (sexualised) violence.
The text was written on board the rescue ship Ocean Viking, which we operated as the German part of the European network SOS Mediterranee until the end of 2021.
Maimouna* is 17 years old. She, her husband and their one-and-a-half-year-old baby are among the 274 people rescued during operations by the Ocean Viking teams in February 2020.
„I fled Ivory Coast so that my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter would not be cut. I didn’t want her to go through what I went through because it’s part of the custom. As I know how it feels, I did not accept it for my daughter. It wasn’t easy. My husband also didn’t want her to be excised, but his family didn’t agree with us either.
Times have changed. Today we must no longer accept excising women. I suffer a lot from it myself. I have pain when I am with my husband, it often hurts. I can’t accept someone doing this to my child. My husband is also against excising his child because he knows that I suffer from it myself. My husband is a good man. He is the one who gave me the courage to fight.”
“We left for Algeria, but we were turned back, so we went to Libya. In Libya, there are so many prisons [editor’s note: Maimouna is talking about detention centres]! We ended up in prison several times.
I had planned to contact my parents when I arrived. They refused to send us money to help us because they didn’t agree with the fact that we had prevented our daughter from being excised.
In prison we were beaten up. They didn’t give us enough food. We suffered a lot. Women are treated very badly there. Oftentimes, a man you wouldn’t even know would catch and rape you. If you refuse, he’d kill you. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have no way to defend yourself.
My husband would often get caught for no reason and then he had to pay to get out of jail. He spent a lot of time in prison, with us too. We could spend 3 to 5 months in jail. In Libya, I had to carry my child with me when I was outside, so when we were caught, I was with her. I was in prison three times with my baby.
My husband managed to work when he wasn’t locked up. We paid with that money to get out of prison. He worked in construction. He had to do it to feed his family, because it’s hard for women to work there. Not everyone was bad in Libya. Sometimes some people paid him for his work, but he was often not getting paid.”
“We were launched at sea between 10 and 11p.m. [editor’s note: the rescue took place the next day, on Wednesday, February 19, 2020, between 10:30a.m. and 12:45p.m.]. Can you imagine all that time on the water? Lots of prayers. We cried and cried. With children on top of that. It was hard. You think of everything that could happen. We could die at sea. Anyway, I’d rather drown than be caught by the Libyans [editor’s note: Maimouna is talking about the Libyan Coast Guard]. When they catch us, we get mistreated.
The sea is not easy to cross, especially on small zodiacs. But we had to do it that way. Not everyone has the same life. Me, I had to do that. I don’t want my daughter to be circumcised. For my child, I’m capable of anything. For me, a mother must defend her child. My husband is the same. He says: „what happened to his wife must not happen to his child. We are ready to die to protect our child. She’s the reason we did all this. We did it to protect her.“
Testimony collected and written by Laurence Bondard, communication officer onboard the Ocean Viking, February 2020.
Symbolic cover picture: Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity