No Protection for Refugee Children in Libya

By Sophie Stocker

“He is stuck in Libya. If he wants to survive, he must get out. While talking to him it was very clear he was scared. He said so himself. He begged me to do anything that could help him.”

Imagine living in fear. Imagine living in a world where all you know is dictatorship. Imagine having to leave everything behind for a slight chance to survive. Because you know that if you stay, you will be tied to chains in a prison. The prison that you have lived in your whole life. The prison that you know will only shackle you tighter.

So, you risk everything. You leave everything behind so that you might find a better life. A life with freedom. A life without a tightrope around your neck.

Daniel is a 15-year old boy who is currently in Libya. He had to leave his home country, Eritrea, when he was 13 years old. He had gone to school since he was 5, and one morning, while going to school with his friend, Tesfay, he decided to leave without telling his family. He did not want to describe the exact events of that morning, but said that he and Tesfay saw an opportunity to go.

I asked him why he needed to leave his country, what he thought, and he told me that he had to leave because there was “no freedom”. “No freedom” because of the indefinite national service that children have to go to once they enter into the final year of school, “no freedom” because of the restrictions of travelling, “no freedom” because of a future of forced labour under permanent national service.

Eritrea is currently one of the most dangerous countries to live in because of its ruthless dictatorship. The president, Isaias Afwerki, imprisons everybody who doesn’t agree with him. There are strict rules and if the people don’t follow those rules, they go to jail. People have to flee, Daniel said, because there is no freedom in the most literal sense.

Daniel could not tell his mother that he left, because she had no phone. It has been two years, and he still has not been able to tell her. On his journey, he met Eritrean smugglers. They helped him get out of Eritrea to Libya for money. The price he had to pay was 8.750 US$ (7.835€) which his family had to pay up for him, as he had no money. They managed to collect the money by asking people in the church to help, and they then sent the money to Sudan, where the payment was made.

Unfortunately, his friend Tesfay could not pay this money, and therefore he was left behind in Sudan. Daniel does not know what happened to his friend. Whether he is alive or not, he does not know. Daniel travelled on to Libya, where he is still to this day. Throughout his travels, he saw horrible things. People were beaten with sticks, and tortured with electric wires. People were sexually violated and raped. People died at the hands of the smugglers.

Daniel’s bigger sister lives in Sweden, where he was trying to join her, but due to a mistake made in the system about the date of birth of Daniel, he was not allowed to rejoin her through the UNHCR resettlement scheme. He therefore is stuck in Libya. If he wants to survive, he must get out. While talking to him it was very clear he was scared. He said so himself. He begged me to do anything that could help him. In the UNHCR Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) camp where he is now, there are 1,500 people, most of them young boys and girls, and pregnant women.

So imagine if that was you. Or your child. Or your sister and brother. Just imagine.

*The names of the refugees were changed for security reasons but the real names are known to the author.

The author interviewed Daniel on 2019, October 13 and 15 by phone. The original transcript is with the author. The interview is part of a school project. The author is a 16-year old student. The name of the author is a penname for security reasons.

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