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From Libyan hell to migrant boat, 2 young Bangladeshis are saved

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Thanks to a telephone, the migrants managed to communicate their GPS position to the Alarm Phone migrant hotline that tracks boats in the Mediterranean

Aboard The Ocean Viking – They never thought they would end up in Europe by leaving their native Bangladesh.

But for Siam and Mohammad, hopes for a better life in Libya turned into a hell to escape at all costs, even if it meant risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

“They beat me on my legs and they punched my body also, so many times,” said Mohammad, 25, aboard the rescue ship Ocean Viking just hours after being rescued off Malta, speaking of traffickers in Libya.

Recounting to an AFP reporter in broken English how armed Libyan traffickers terrorised him for months, Mohammed recalled his captors threatening to “take off my nails.”

“I will die if I will stay here,” he remembered thinking of Libya, a country he originally thought could provide him with money to send to his family.

With jet-black hair and big, round eyes, Mohammad tinkers with the zipper of his tracksuit, scanning the horizon from the main deck.

“So I decided, whatever will happen, I have to leave this place.”

Siam, 20, said that “If you can give money, you’d pay and you’d be free. Otherwise they’d beat you”.

The traffickers “make videos of beating you and tell your family to give money, otherwise they will kill you”, he said.

Arriving in Libya on flights from the United Arab Emirates for a few hundred euros, both young men — who met only while crossing the Mediterranean — had hoped to find jobs there in agriculture, oil or construction.

But instead they found themselves trapped in a merciless migrant trade that crushes thousands of people every year, in a country plunged into chaos since 2011.

Escape or ransom

Both of them fatherless, Siam and Mohammad had promised to provide for their families back in Bangladesh, where almost half the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

“All depends on me — medical, food, everything. That depends on me,” Mohammad told AFP aboard the ship.

Thanks to an intermediary, Siam found a small job as a cleaner in a Benghazi hospital but “was only given half my salary. When I asked for my due, they slapped me,” he said.

Fleeing became the only way out. But risking one’s life on the world’s most dangerous migration route comes at a price — $5,000. Where would the money come from?

His family begged for money from anyone who could help, Siam said.

“And then my family sold my house. Sold my house to save me,” he said.

Locked up in unsanitary prefab buildings, tossed from one trafficker to another, Mohammad finally managed to escape his jailers along with two companions.

Without a roof over his head or any money, he gave away all he had left: his phone and his clothes. Luckily, a smuggler accepts his pittance.

So he found himself aboard a fiber glass boat, along with Siam, bound for Sicily.

Nothing left

The young men recalled huddling at the bottom of an eroded hold, cold and bathed in salt water, the smell of gasoline pervading the air.

“The ocean had very big waves, like five meters, six meters. And, the boat was very small,” Mohammad said.

After three days in which the boat traveled 600 kilometers, water, food and fuel were running out and the boat began to take on water.

Bottles, sponges, clothing — everything was used to bail.

Thanks to a telephone, the migrants managed to communicate their GPS position to the Alarm Phone migrant hotline that tracks boats in the Mediterranean.

It was nearly four in the morning Monday when the Ocean Viking, operated by the SOS Mediterranee migrant rescue group, noticed the small boat in distress and began its approach.

Mohammed recalled wondering whether they were pirates: “But what could they possibly take from us? We’ve got nothing left.”

Staggering to stay on their feet and exhausted, the 35 migrants on the boat were plucked from the sea.

“You are a blessing… You have loved us very much,” Siam told his rescuers. “You saved our life.”

Both men now wish to apply for asylum.

But under Italy’s far-right government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the task could be difficult.

This month, Italy designated Bangladesh — the country from which most migrants to Italy departed last year — as a “safe country”, complicating asylum requests.

Not that Mohammad, who hopes to be a baker or pastry chef, is discouraged.

“I came so close to death. Being here is a second birth,” he said. AFP

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