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Held captive in the desert

Mohamud and Osman discuss their experiences

It’s a warm September afternoon and we’re sitting at a refugee center in Munich. With us are Osman and Mohamed,  two Somali asylum seekers who have been living in Germany for three and eleven months, respectively. As they remember the journey they endured to get here, Mohamed is much more talkative while Osman is more reserved.

Osman departed for the journey from Mogadishu in 2014. And Mohamed departed from Hargeisa in 2002.

“The greatest difficulty comes when you arrive in the Sahara Desert,” Mohamed says.  “It doesn’t matter if you pay or not, you will still get abused… you feel fear.”

Both men underwent a myriad of difficulties in Libya. Osman sustained numerous physical injuries from the beatings he received from traffickers. While Mohamed, who spent two years there, was detained several times. On one occasion, he broke his leg while trying to escape.

“When you first enter the sea… that is when you are happiest,” says Mohamed. “When you’re on the boat thinking, Thank God, he has taken me out of Libya.

The sea, for which they had longed for, however, brought out the worst in some of the people on the boat. Some suffered hysteria and attempted to puncture the rubber dinghy, while others simply threw themselves into the water—  unable to handle the psychological torture of not knowing when or if they would survive the journey.

“Some people got so shaken up, they eventually became crazy and threw themselves overboard,” recalls Mohamed. “You have to watch a person the entire day and tell him to stay put.”

“When one sees the sea and is exposed to the sun… when the boat is rocking and it’s a rubber boat, one will get shaken up,” he adds.

Listen to Mohamed and Osman recount how their journey began.

Both Mohamed and Osman decided to seek asylum in Germany after hearing of the living conditions in Italy, which were said to be poor for asylum seekers and refugees.

“I was happy,” remembers Osman, reflecting upon his arrival. “You can imagine, a person who’s been through all those difficulties would be happy,” he says.

Despite the emotional burden of having put their families in debt— who had to pay ransom several times— Mohamed and Osman are happy to be alive, and hope to be able to repay them one day. In fact the biggest concern held by both men is when they will receive their resident permits and be able to start working. Both have enrolled in German classes, and hope they will also be admitted to vocational training.

Listen to Mohamed and Osman talk about adjusting to their new lives in Germany.

Text to come.

Date of interview: 1 March 2016  |  Last modified: 9 June 2016  |
Interview by: Khaled Abdu Mohammedsaid  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Max-Michel Kolijn