When My Little Brother Asks About Our Mother, I Tell Him She Went to the Market

Some 3 000 sub-Saharan Africans are stranded in camps at the Tunisian border with Libya. Most had fled violence or repression in their own countries in search of work in Libya. Due to the war, they had to flee. But due to the situations in their native countries, they cannot be repatriated, and are therefore stuck where they are, their futures uncertain.

Many had been detained while they were in Libya. Others have lost relatives - parents, husbands, wives, or children. Some were physically injured. Some have endured severe psychological trauma. And now tensions are building in Shousha, the unsurprising result of the collective circumstances of the people in the camps. Despite past experiences, many would actually prefer to go back to Libya. Despite the dangers, many would rather risk the perilous and sometimes fatal journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

MSF has been working in the camps for several months, offering medical and psychological care, and collecting testimonies such as this one:
Emmanuel, 15 and Jacob, 3, from Nigeria, lost their mother after a boat on its way to Italy capsized.

“We were living with our mother in Libya for the past five years. She owned a hair salon in Tripoli.

When the crisis began in Libya, everything was destroyed. We decided to flee the war and cross the Mediterranean Sea to start a new life in Italy, where one of our uncles lives.

We took a ship at the end of May, but our trip went badly wrong. We spent six days lost in the sea without food, nor water. Some people drank sea water. People started dying.

After six days, the ship hit a rock and capsized. Tunisian fishermen boats saw us and two bigger ships came to our rescue, but it was already too late for many of us.
I was wearing a life-jacked and managed to swim, holding my little brother Jacob. But my mother did not wear one. We cannot find her.

We were taken to the port of Sfax and brought at the Tunisian-Libyan border. There, we received food, water and clothes.

But we want to find our mother. We don’t know where she is.

Place for hope in Italy?

Now the two of us live in a camp. We don’t know where our father is. Our parents divorced a few years ago. He may be in Egypt. We have an uncle in Italy, maybe they can help us to get there. At least our lives would be ok there.

Jacob doesn’t understand what is going on. When he asks about our mother, I tell him she went to the market and has yet to return. That’s the only way I find to calm him down. He wants to see our mother. We cannot go back to Nigeria. There is nobody to take care of my little brother there. I want to go to Italy, because that is where we have someone.

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