In the Hands of the Trafficker

Zeregabir’s story

Zeregabir is a man who’s been to hell and back and lived to tell the story. Over the course of his journey through the Libyan Desert, he visited the brink of death repeatedly, returning each time barely alive. He’s been forced to drink his own urine to stay alive in the desert. He’s watched people drop dead from hunger, thirst, gunshot wounds, and the physical abuses of traffickers. He’s witnessed friends get crushed alive in a cement truck, and watched helplessly as women were raped by traffickers. 

“It’s hard to convince others that the risks are so high when they know I’ve made it here alive,” says Zeregabir. “Once you leave your home, nothing you encounter is good. The worst thing that can happen is death. But it is the worst way of dying.”

Prior to arriving in Libya, Zeregabir’s journey was relatively without incident. His biggest worry was getting detected by authorities when crossing the Eritrean border and traveling through Sudan. Once at the Sudanese Egyptian border, the traffickers had a run in with the Egyptian border control which culminated in an exchange of gunfire and a desert car chase. Even though Zeregabir’s truck managed to get away, eight people died from bullet wounds.

During the commotion, the convoy of trucks carrying refugees scattered and the traffickers asked Zeregabir and the others to get off.

“Driving away some distance from the scene, the traffickers said they would check on their colleagues who’d been captured by the Egyptians…” he says. “The Libyans left us, around 70 people, in the middle of nowhere.”

For 14 days, Zeregabir and the other refugees were left in the desert with a limited amount food and water which eventually ran out. Then, one by one, people started to die.

Watch Zeregabir recount his journey from Eritrea to Libya:

Having survived the treacherous journey to the sea, all Zeregabir could look forward to was leaving Libya. Twice he tried to embark on the journey at sea only to be intercepted by authorities and thrown in jail. He succeeded the third time, and the boat, carrying 470 persons, was rescued by the Italian coast guard.

At the time of the interview, Zeregabir had been living in Germany for a little over a year. Like many refugees, Zeregabir says life in Europe is not what he expected. Still troubled by what he’s endured and the reality of living a life in limbo, he suffers from depression and occasionally seeks solace in alcohol.

“Of course the life that has been saved is now safe, but there is nothing more than that,” he laments. “Many young new arrivals have already become depressed and addicted to alcohol due to that, including me. We had this different image of Europe— one close to paradise.”

Watch Zeregabir talk about adjusting to his new life:

Date of interview: 22 September 2016  |  Last modified: 22 September 2016  |
Interview by: Messai Ali  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Max-Michel Kolijn