From Sudan’s Destitution to the Lap of Isis in Libya: A Refugee Story

Wednesday 15 September 202112:12 pm
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لاجئة تروي تفاصيل الهروب من فقر السودان إلى جحيم "داعش" في ليبيا

Aisha - as she asked to be called - the twenty-four-year-old now residing in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, left her country in May 2014, fleeing abject poverty that has mired Sudan for years.

When Aisha fled, she left behind a family consisting of seven siblings, including three boys, a deceased father and a disabled mother. The decision to leave was not an easy one for Aisha. The perilous journey she made was well-known for its risks and dangers, and the chances of completely surviving it were bleak, as people heading to Libya travel by land and take rough roads for days on end in an attempt to escape from border guards and bandits. The journey carries risks such as falling into the clutches of those who the travelers were trying to escape from in the first place, along with challenges that the desert holds as they cross it by cars that can barely run.

The Escape Trip from Sudan

Aisha tells us her story of when she decided to take the “death car” to Libya at the age of eighteen, to reach the Europe, the promised leans she has long heard of, “I lived through my childhood and the first part of my adolescence in poor conditions, and having dreams of studying in college were not even on the table due to my family’s dire poverty and what challenges we were going through in my home country.”

“I heard from my neighbors one day that they were planning to go to Europe via Libya. They were describing life there, and how this would be their escape from the life they are living. The idea appealed to me, I began to mull it over in my head, laying out all the possible scenarios for such a step. I did not have enough money to travel, since the trip cost the equivalent of a thousand dollars, an exorbitant amount for a girl like me. My sisters helped me gather the required fee under an agreement that I would make sure to bring them to me as soon as I arrived in Europe, but I broke the promise and everything completely changed.”

Aisha was enslaved in Libya. There, she become the property of the smugglers who were bartering her life, manipulating so she’d bring them money through prostitution

The journey to reach Libya held many difficulties, but as soon as Aisha arrived, the journey’s destination suddenly changed, “The truck that transported us to Libya was carrying fifty-four people, including children, women and men. The desert part of the journey was the most difficult, and we did not have the luxury of carrying many things or eating and drinking. As soon as we entered the Libyan border, the driver informed us that he could no longer continue and that his role in delivering us ends here, and that we will disembark in the first populated area - the outskirts of the city of Kufra. As soon as the driver left we found ourselves surrounded by an armed group that then took us all to another area. The women were separated from the men and the children were left with their mothers. We had fallen into the hands of a trafficking ring whose trade depends on smuggling migrants to and from Libya through various points, and the driver was part of this network that we had paid money to.”

Aisha’s movements inside Libya was not of her own free will. She had become the property of those who were trading her life as if it were a piece of owned land, just so she’d bring them money, “I spent nearly four months inside the place I was imprisoned in. What we ate was acceptable compared to what I used to eat in our house, but the physical abuse was unforgettable. I wasn’t asked to do much except stay quiet and follow orders, until the time came for us to be sold - me and nine other girls, including Somalis and Eritreans.”

This is How I Was Recruited into ISIS

We moved from the city of Kufra to Sabratah, a long journey that lasted three days and saw us resting during daylight hours and moving at night. When we arrived in Sabratah, it turned out we were heading to the women’s hostel of the Islamic State! It was one of the darkest moments of my life, I was handed over to the woman in charge of the hostel, thus began my journey as a Jihadi.

We then began taking intensive religious lessons and were forced to wear Islamic dress until, after nearly nine months had passed, the time came for us to be transferred to the ‘Emirate of Sirte’. Our role revolved around cooking food, washing clothes and providing support to the Jihadists in any way possible. I repeatedly thought about escaping, but the fate of the ones who were caught was not encouraging. My female companions were killed as punishment for attempting to escape.”

"I walked into the Emirate, as if I cleansed and purified from all sins. Choosing to get married wasn’t a bad choice, for I had moved in with my husband, and was now in charge of only him, after I had been serving hundreds of men"

“Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous” Leaves Me on the Run

Aisha continues to narrate the details of her survival in the ‘Emirate of Sirte’, which was established by the militant group in North Africa, as a starting point for a scheme to dominate the northern line of the African continent.

“Four months after I had arrived in the ‘Emirate of Sirte’, I received an offer of marriage from one of the Jihadists there. He was of Libyan nationality, which encouraged me to accept the proposal. Perhaps this would spare me a little from the life of servanthood I had been forced into. I accepted and was lawfully and legally married, in the words of the Sheikh who married us. I was not a virgin and my husband did not care about this particularity. I had walked into the Emirate as if I had been cleansed and purified from all sins. Choosing to get married wasn’t a bad choice for I had moved in with my husband and was now in charge of only him after I had been bound to a schedule for hundreds. He was so kind and compassionate to me that I thought that fate had finally smiled down at me, but then disaster struck. Our Emirate was in danger of disappearing after the Libyan government announced the launch of Operation Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid wall) in April 2016.”

“At first, my husband informed me that we would leave Sirte together in secret, but then the plan changed to smuggling me alone after the war began, because he could not leave the Emirate and betray his comrades. He was kind to me until the very last moment, fearing for me from death and imprisonment. He gave me some money and rented a car for me and got me through the desert to the southern city of Sabha, where his friends welcomed me there amid hopes that he would later join me. My husband died two months after I left for the city of Sabha, and so another phase of my bitter journey began.”

Aisha stopped telling her story at this point, crying over her loss of her husband. She then gathered herself and said: “I lived with him for nearly two years, I finally had a house that I had spent years looking for, but life refused to let me keep it.”

ISIS Members Looking for the Support of International Organizations

Aisha narrates the ending of her story and the reason she has stayed in Libya until now, “Following the death of my husband, I decided to leave Sabha and come to Tripoli after finding out that there were international organizations working to provide money and support to people like me. They may even secure travel services and safe passage to Europe.”

She goes on to say, “I left for Tripoli in April 2018, and I have a new dream to achieve what I had promised my sisters years ago when I left our house. It wasn’t a bad move, for I was able to get financial aid from an organization and my name is still on their waiting lists. Meanwhile I spend my time working as a henna artist as well as preparing brides, so I have enough money to travel. The work is profitable and comfortable and I get a good tip most of the time.”

“I can no longer go back to Sudan. The freedom that I enjoy today is not something I can bet on, and staying here is far better and more merciful than going back. I have found a source of income, a livelihood, a network of acquaintances and good relations in Tripoli. And if Europe lets me, I will not abandon it, and if it doesn’t, I am fine so far.”

Aisha, after all that she has suffered, still carries hope within her soul, and her face carries a smile that the hardships she went through hadn’t been able to take from her. Like Aisha, there are plenty of people around the world who have many reasons for escaping in various ways, but each one of them has their own unique story to tell.

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