Abdirahman was living a happy life in his hometown Hargeisa, Somalia. He was training to become a photographer and was looking forward to starting a life of his own. He was especially close to his mother, who encouraged and supported him in every way.
“My mother whom I love more than anybody else did everything she could for me. She’s the only one I can tell everything to, she’s the one I ask for advice.”
But his happiness turned sour when he started receiving pictures and messages from friends who had travelled irregularly to Europe. They were bragging about how life in Europe was wonderful and easy and Abdirahman felt an urge to go there himself. He and some friends decided to try their luck and contacted a smuggler. Though he felt guilty about it, Abdirahman did not inform his parents because he knew that his mother would become very upset and stop him from going.
“I felt my mother would be shocked if she was told her son was lost, not knowing if he was dead or alive. No parents want their son to go on that dangerous road and, on top of that, support him to do it.”
They had been promised the journey would be fast and easy. Already the first leg, across the sea to Yemen and from there to Sudan, brought a sharp reality check. Many fellow passengers died on the overloaded boat which had a capacity of 50 passengers but had 200 on board.
“There was a covered space on the lower deck. It was meant for storing goods. The people in that place all died of suffocation after one hour of travelling (...) The crew feared the Yemeni government would catch them. Therefore, when we were close to shore, people were kicked out of the boat. Some of us drowned in the waves because they couldn’t swim.”
The second sea journey to Sudan was another nightmare. The ship got lost and they ran out of food. When they finally reached the Sudanese shore, they were handed over to ruthless, brutal smugglers. They were put on buses and started a long drive through a hot desert. They did not get anything to eat, only water mixed with petrol to drink, to prevent them feeling hungry. In Libya, their party was attacked by bandits and they were taken to a traffickers’ camp where they were brutally beaten to force their families to pay ransom.
“Everyone was told to contact their families. They were made to say they had a broken leg and bullet wounds when asking money from them. We should only give bad news.”
Because of his love for his mother, Abdirahman refused to tell her that he had been wounded, and after the call he was beaten unconscious by the traffickers. When the ransom money had been paid, the camp was suddenly attacked by a rival gang and Abdirahman was kidnapped once again and ordered to pay ransom. At last, he managed to flee his tormentors and was rescued by police. He was put into detention and eventually offered repatriation, which he gratefully accepted.
“When I returned, the love of my family made me forget all my sorrows. They were very happy, especially my mother. She started a new life once I returned. She is happy again.”
Abdirahman has now opened a photo studio and his mother is enthusiastically supporting the project. Marked by his horrific experiences, he is telling those planning to travel irregularly to take him as a warning example. He says that road is only leading to death and suffering.