“If I didn’t board the boat, I would die”

Schwarz-Weiß-Aufnahme eines Holzbootes auf dem zentralen Mittelmeer.
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

Mariam* comes from the Ivory Coast and fled from Tunisia across the central Mediterranean to Europe in the summer of 2023. During the crossing, she was rescued by the crew of the Humanity 1 and talks on board about her personal reasons for taking on the dangerous journey.

*Name changed to protect the survivor.

I left the Ivory Coast in 2019, because my family were forcing me to marry someone I didn’t want to. It wasn’t easy. Leaving my mother wasn’t easy.

I went first to Mali. I walked there, all the way from Ivory Coast. Then we crossed the desert. We went through a lot, it wasn’t easy.

Geflüchtete Person an Bord der Humanity 1.
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

I arrived in Tunisia and stayed there for 3 years. My family knew that I was there. I spent one month in Tunis, and then went to Sfax. I worked as a cleaner. I didn’t go to school, I can’t read or write, so I am a cleaner. I spent two years and eleven months there. I worked for 5 months and they didn’t pay me. I was afraid of being threatened if I asked for a salary.

In Tunisia, people weren’t nice to me. They would threaten me with knives, and if I didn’t hand over my phone, they would stab me. And the police said nothing.

One day, I came home from work to find that my own landlord had broken down the door of my house and stolen all my money.  I asked him: why did you take my money? But then, he called the police.

"The police threatened to bring me to the desert, at the border with Libya. I didn't know what I was going to do."

I ran away to an olive grove. For 5 days, I slept in the olive grove to hide from the police, near Sfax. I didn’t have any water to drink or anything to eat.

After 5 days some people arrived who wanted to take the boat to Italy. I didn’t have much money, but out of pity, as if I were his sister, the person offered to take me on the boat. I didn’t have to pay much.

I was fed up. If I stayed in Tunisia, they were going to kill me. I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t board the boat, I would die. So I got on the boat and said to myself: either I will end up in Italy, or I will end up beneath the water. We all have to take risks.

Holzboot ohne Besatzung auf dem zentralen Mittelmeer.
Raphael Schumacher / SOS Humanity

We left at four in the morning, on Monday. We [began to take on water] that same day. On Tuesday we were rescued.

I want to go to France. I want to go to school. I want to study.

It wasn’t easy with my parents, which is why I didn’t go to school back home. So I pray to God that I’ll be able to go to school, learn how to read and write. I can do my old job too, I’ll do the housework, clean people’s houses.

"There’s a lot more I’d like to say, but I can't. I can’t say it all. I’ve been through so much, from the desert to the Mediterranean."
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