It was 6:40 in the morning when the crew aboard the rescue vessel Iuventa sighted the rubber boat. Aboard were 129 people from Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria, among other countries. They had departed six hours prior from the coast of Libya, where they were brought by paid smugglers. Thanks to the rescue mission, conducted by the German NGO Jugend Rettet, all of them survived that day.
Among them was Malick Jeng, 19-year-old Gambian whose life I've been documenting since he was rescued from the sea. He is one of the 181,436 refugees and migrants who reached Italy by sea in 2016, a year that broke all records in Mediterranean crossings. This reportage is an attempt to put face and name to this migratory tragedy, but also to visualize what happens after the rescues, once migrants arrive to Europe.
Malick left his hometown of Banjul, the capital of Gambia, five months before that rescue day in August 2016. He walked away alone, without telling his family, like many young people who have attempted the journey to Europe before him. After passing Senegal, he crossed the desert in Mali inside an oil tank, where he nearly suffocated. Once he arrived in Libya, he was imprisoned for a month.
Denounced by the International Organization for Migrations (IOM) as a “slave market,” Libya, plunged into a power struggle since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, is home to various armed groups that prey on sub-Saharan migrants in order to make money. They manage the migratory routes to the coasts, as well as the prisons where migrants are often confined and abused, their families extorted to pay for their release.
Malick had to witness the murder of some of his fellow travellers inside the prison. And as soon as he was released, thanks to a payment sent by his family, he immediately got in touch with a smuggler that transferred him to a “connection center” in the Libyan capital city of Tripoli. He waited there for weeks to be taken to the beach and depart towards Europe.
Jeng was first transferred to Sicily and then to Biella, a city in the north of Italy, where he has lived ever since, in a temporary reception centre called Hotel Colibri - an old hotel that had been closed for 10 years. The hotel was turned into a temporary reception centre for asylum seekers in August 2016. There he waits for an answer to his asylum request, a process that can last up to two years.