A story of sea and hope

❝ My God you are a worthy Saviour, thou are worthy, thou alone and worthy to be praised. My God, my God.❞ Judith sings and cries. All around people are drowning in the water of the Mediterranean Sea. ❝ I will not die! If I die who will take care of my family? ❞ Judith shouts. The waves are high and it doesn’t stop raining. Joy encourages her to hold the rope tightly and she obeys, but as soon as she turns back, Joy has disappeared into the sea. Judith is pregnant. She stayed in Libya for several months, during which time she became pregnant. A new life is the hope that is keeping her alive. She is going to survive and reach land. She cries and seeks God’s help: ❝ Father, if I die in the Mediterranean Sea, my family won’t know I died in the sea! ❞ Finally the Libyan coast guard finds the boat. She is safe.

❝ “I will not die! If I die who will take care of my family?” ❞

Judith is a 21 year old Nigerian. A humanitarian organisation based in Malta rescued her and another 202 people early in the morning of the 11th of June 2017, 25 miles away from the Libyan coast, whilst she was trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea for the second time. The first time, her attempt failed and she had almost died. This time, the boat is finally taking her to Messina (Italy) for the identification process. Judith wants to reach Germany to find a job and send money back to Nigeria.

On the way to Sicily, she shares more of her story:

❝ My mother had 2 girls and 2 boys. I lost my elder brother. My dad died of poverty. We suffered a lot. There was no food, no good treatment, no money. One month after the burial of my father, I lost my mum. I am the last born of the family. My eldest sister doesn’t work, I don’t work. The suffering was too much. So my friends were coming to Libya, and I forced myself to follow them, so I can take care of my family. ❞

By Michela Donnarumma / Xchange Foundation

Judith comes from the Rivers State, Nigeria. Rivers State is economically important as the centre of the oil industry with its reserves of crude oil and natural gas. Despite the prosperity of the land, mismanagement of public resources, corruption and carelessness of the oil industry, have led to general impoverishment and degradation of the environment. There were repeated episodes of criminals blowing up the pipelines to extract crude oil and sell it to nearby companies which could no longer afford to operate in the region. Oil spills contaminated the land and water, impacting on fishing, agriculture — which is the main occupation of the people of the River State —, and the well-being of local communities. While militants are engaged in an armed struggle in Rivers State, forcing the government to invest in local communities, small farming companies shut down due to lack of investment and security.

In 2017 Nigerians are the top nationality of sea arrivals across the Mediterranean.

Judith left her home in Nigeria on the 18th of August 2016 with the dream of reaching Italy. The first part of her long journey took her northwest to Kano and across the border to Niger. In Niger, she passed through Agadez, the most important transitory hub for West African migrants making their way to Libya. Human rights abuses on this route are prolific. Migrants often face exploitation, physical abuse, and extortion at the hands of border officials and smugglers. Several days later, Judith reached the Libyan border and continued her journey to Sabha, a city in central Libya, then north to Bani Walid and west to Tripoli, before reaching the coastal town of Sabratha. Sabratha lies 70 km west of Tripoli and borders the Mediterranean Sea. It is usually the final stop for migrants on the African continent.

When she boarded the dinghy (an inflatable rubber boat) for the first time on the 25th October 2016 with 205 others, the weather conditions caused the boat to deteriorate rapidly. The rain filled the boat, people started to fight, and fuel was spilled. Some died because they didn’t know how to swim; others died due to the drop in temperature. Judith recalls: “They pushed us when the sea was calm. After, the sea was rough and it was raining and the water filled the boat. People started to fight. The water was cold, there were no fisherman, and no boats, nobody to rescue us. There were big waves, and dolphins in the water. All the passengers died. Only eight of us survived.” She cries as she shares her story. She is still pregnant. She explains that she survived because she hung onto the rope on the boat tightly. And she sings her beautiful prayer, for everyone to be part of her story: ““My God you are a worthy Saviour, thou are worthy, thou alone and worthy to be praised. My God, my God.”

On the third day in the Mediterranean, the Libyan Coast Guard found the boat. They were taken to a prison in Libya, where Judith spent three months. “You will be there and Libyan Police will rape you, will get some women pregnant. They beat people, they kill people.”

❝ You will be there and Libyan Police will rape you, will get some women pregnant. They beat people, they kill people, explains Judith ❞

She explains that finally someone broke out of the prison and everyone ran away.

On the 10th of June Judith boarded for her second time on a rubber boat to try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the Italian coast. This time she was rescued.



By Alessandra Lacaita | Xchange Foundation