Letter from Lampedusa
The Africans who risk all to reach Europe look to an exiled priest as their savior.
by Mattathias Schwartz April 21, 2014
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In Eritrea, you turn eighteen and go into the Army, and you stay in the Army for many years, sometimes for the rest of your life. You work for a few dollars a day—in construction, farming, mining. Those who refuse are sent to prison. There is no other choice.We wanted a better life, a free and normal life. In Europe, we heard, you can live however you want. And so we left Eritrea and entered the desert. We went on foot and took very little with us—some dates, water, a number to call when we ran out of money, a number to call if we made it to Europe.
We walked west, into Sudan, to Khartoum, then into the Sahara and into Libya. There were a hundred and thirty-one of us. This is the story that we told later, to the police, the journalists, and the courts. One day in Libya, a band of armed Somalis came upon us. They forced us into vans and brought us to the town of Sabha, where they locked us up in a house. They made us stand for hours. They tied us upside down and beat the soles of our feet. They held weapons to our heads and fired bullets into the floor. They drove two of our young women into the desert, raped them, and returned with only one. They poured water over the floor and tried to shock us with a live wire, but they succeeded only in burning out the lights. . . .