Last week, KUNLE FALAYI wrote on the case of a Nigerian who went missing in Libya and his family living in limbo without any clue as to what could have happened to him. In this report, another Nigerian migrant living in fear of being killed in the North African country shares his story
Peter Oamen was 24 years old in 2015 when he decided to travel to Europe like many of his friends who had already gone before him.
But first, he had to get to Libya and to get there, conquering the largest desert in the world – the Sahara – in a three-day 910km journey from Agadez, Niger to the North African country was a risk he was willing to take.
Oamen embarked on the journey and unlike the unfortunate migrants, whose dried up corpses littered the landscape of the desert he and his cohorts passed through, he arrived Libya successfully in July 2015.
He said, “I was a trader in Nigeria at the time and I was doing very fine. I thought I could make much money because my friends kept telling me life in Europe was far better.
“Through the businesses I did in Nigeria, I had been able to build a four-bedroomed house in Irrua, Esan Central Local Government Area of Edo State. But when I was urgently looking for money to travel abroad, I sold off the house for N450,000 because I needed N500,000 to get to Libya.”
Finally in Libya, Oamen was unable to raise enough money to fund the last leg of his journey – from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and he had to work to make a living.
By the time he had enough money to finance his crossing, he said he became discouraged as news of drowning and deportation of migrants circulated all over the world.
He decided to choose the option of staying in Tripoli to make a living in a country where violence by militiamen and the police has become an everyday affair.
When pictures and videos of Nigerians and other black migrants being brutalised and summarily executed in Libya surfaced some days ago, the critical situation of men, women and even children flocking out of Nigeria in search of better life became a source of concern.
The pictures prompted the Nigerian government to immediately issue a warning to Nigerians to steer clear of the country.
For the first time, a Nigerian who is currently trapped behind what has now become the “frontline of terror against black immigrants” shared his story, giving an inside look at the deadly situation black migrants face in the transit country.
According to Oamen, in the past, Libyan militiamen and police rounded up black migrants and put them in detention facilities where some of them died of diseases or random killing. But now, he said they seemed to have fashioned out a new way of dealing with migrants who venture into the country – extermination.
Oamen, who said he has been living in an uncompleted building in Tripoli, the country’s capital for more than two weeks, fears for his life every day.
He dares not walk on the street in the day time, while he only sneaks out once in a while to work in a tile making factory, whose administrators don’t really care about the colour of his skin so far as he gets the job done.
Over the past months, violence against black migrants had increased in Libya.
Oamen explained that he is paid 100 Libyan Dinar (about $70 or N21,000) per day.
But as soon as he steps out of the factory with his wage in his pocket, he is robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint by Libyans.
“The Libyans already know when we get paid. As soon as we finish work and step out, they rob us. Everywhere there are thieves. The robberies happen every day,” he said.
Oamen and his friends know better than to resist the Libyan men who rob them of their wages.
According to him, going to and from work, it has become common to see the corpse of a stabbed or shot black migrant on street corners.
“We just wake up in the morning and see the corpse of a black man or woman in a street corner. Many people from Edo State that I knew were killed in street corners around Christmas and New Year.
“If the Libyan men find you in a corner and they ask for your money, if you have nothing to give them, you are either shot or stabbed to death.”
But things worsened about two weeks ago.
The Edo-State born trader explained that that day, he had just got back from work and was relaxing in the tiny house he shared with 12 other black migrants from Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia, when another migrant who had gone out to buy something suddenly came rushing back in.
“He said there were policemen everywhere. We all knew what that meant. The whole house turned upside down. Everybody started rushing to dress up, because we all knew what police presence meant. We all had to flee because being caught may be death.
“Suddenly, we started hearing gunshots as they entered all the houses where Nigerians and other blacks were living. We scaled the fence of our compound and scattered in different directions as they shot at us. There was nowhere to run. Arabs pushed us out of their houses when we tried to seek refuge with them.
“Some of us ran into an uncompleted building and lay on the floor till the night. I have been living in the uncompleted building for more than two weeks now. Others ran into other buildings and were caught. We still don’t know what happened to those caught till today.”
Oamen said after the dust settled and scores of black migrants had been taken away, he and his cohorts ventured into their previous living areas under the cover of night. But the sight they met left them shocked. He said all the buildings black migrants were living in had been burnt to the ground along with the belongings they left behind in a hurry.
“But that was not the worst. Some were shot while trying to run away. Dead bodies littered the street – men and women alike. Now, everybody is afraid of going out either in the night or day. They treat us like rats. Our people are killed and burnt by Libyans. Everywhere is hot now,” he said.
At the moment, Oamen said all he is thinking about is coming back to Nigeria.
Last week, our correspondent had notified the International Organisation for Migration about Peter’s case along with that of his 18-year-old brother, Joshua, who had joined him in Libya last year.
Both of them have been living under the shadow of violence and death that migrants in Libya have been subjected to.
Joshua, who had been working as a welder before the clampdown on migrants, left Nigeria without their mother’s knowledge.
Oamen also said he did not know that his brother was going to follow in his footsteps and come to Libya.
Now both of them are desperate to come back to their homeland.
Last week, Saturday PUNCH
reported how their mother, Mrs. Pauline pleaded for help to enable her sons to come back home.
But what happens to Peter who sold everything he has before he left Nigeria two years ago?
He told our correspondent that he really would not mind starting his life all over again so far as he could get back to the country in one piece.
“All I need to do is to rent a place and start a tile and ceramic business since I already got the skills here,” he said.
The Head of IOM in Nigeria, Mr. Nahashon Thuo, has said the brothers would be considered for repatriation in the next batch of returnees to be flown back from Libya to Nigeria.