When Hope Is Lost: Detained in Libya • Moises Saman • Magnum Photos

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Conflict

When Hope Is Lost: Detained in Libya

Moises Saman on witnessing the 'blurred line between good and evil' on his recent assignment to photograph migrants detained in Libya

Moises Saman

Moises Saman African migrants held at the Sikka Road detention center in Tripoli, wash up during a brief moment that they were allowed to be outdoors in the front yard of the detention center. The main holding (...)

Moises Saman recounts the harrowing experience of witnessing migrants and their smugglers getting detained in Libya.

“On a clear April night, a writer and I accompanied Abdulrahman Al-Bija, a militia commander from Zawiyah, on a nighttime patrol of the sea off the Libyan coast. Al-Bija commands a Libyan Coast Guard boat and crew made up of friends from his local tribe and village. His mission consists of intercepting migrant rubber boats in the sea, and ‘rescue’ the migrants by arresting them and later hand them to their local detention facility. On this night, Al-Bija’s boat spotted two boats on the radar and ordered his men to charge forward and intervene. Upon reaching the boats, Al-Bija and his crew realized that one of the boats was an armed smugglers vessel, and a standoff ensued. Soon an horrific close-quarters shooting between the two boats started, and in the end all of the smugglers were killed. Sometimes, the line between good and evil, good guys and bad guys, blurs beyond recognition, challenging my role as a witness to dramatic events unfolding in front of my eyes. Nowhere is this line more blurred than in Libya.

Moises Saman Roselyn Tore, 45, pleads with a guard for additional food ration at the Airport Road detention center for illegal migrants on the outskirts of Tripoli. Roselyn, a sickly woman, has been refused rep (...)
Moises Saman Detained African migrants outside of their holding cells during a meal at the Annaser detention center. Zawiyah, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos
Moises Saman 19-year-old Sangare Sekou, a migrant from the Ivory Coast, recovers from a bullet wound inside a quarantine cell at the Sikka Road detention center for illegal migrants in Tripoli, Libya. Sekou was (...)

"Sometimes, the line between good and evil, good guys and bad guys, blurs beyond recognition, challenging my role as a witness to dramatic events unfolding in front of my eyes."

- Moises Saman
Moises Saman African migrants inside a detention cell at a Annaser detention facility in Zawiyah. Zawiyah, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos

These photographs were taken in the span of about two weeks, during a trip to Libya in March and April on 2017. Access was arranged by a local fixer with contacts in the UN-backed Libyan government based in Tripoli. The purpose of this trip was to report on the situation of the thousands of African migrants as they transit through Libya, arguably the most treacherous part of their land journey from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. The most dramatic part of the trip involved witnessing first hand how the powerful human trafficking networks are fighting against government-backed militias for supremacy in the dirty human trafficking business.

Moises Saman The infrared camera of a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat captures the moment guards from the Libyan Coast Guard board a smugglers boat after a deadly shootout in the sea in which five smugglers were (...)
Moises Saman Female African migrants being held at the Sikka Road detention center in Tripoli, gather in the courtyard of the holding facility before receiving their daily food rations. Tripoli, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos
Moises Saman A photograph of a dead African migrants that washed up on the Libyan Coast inside an investigation file of the Libyan Red Crescent in Tripoli, Libya. Tripoli, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos
Moises Saman A fatally wounded Libyan smuggler is taken into custody aboard a Libyan Coast Guard boat after a deadly confrontation and shootout between a group of armed Libyan smugglers and a patrol of the Liby (...)
Moises Saman The main holding facility at the Sikka Road detention facility operated by the Libyan Ministry of Interior in Tripoli. About 1400 migrants, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, are detained in deplorabl (...)
Moises Saman The infrared camera of a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat shows a boat of armed Libyan smugglers(bottom right) escorting a rubber boat full of African migrants (center left) in the Mediterranean Sea (...)

"The most dramatic part of the trip involved witnessing first hand how the powerful human trafficking networks are fighting against government-backed militias for supremacy in the dirty human trafficking business."

- Moises Saman
Moises Saman African migrants about to be repatriated to their countries of origin gather with their belongings outside the main holding facility at the Sikka Road detention facility operated by the Libyan Mini (...)
Moises Saman A detained African migrant shows a cell phone photo of a group of friends feared dead in a rubber boat sinking accident in the Mediterranean Sea. Zawiyah, Libya. 2017 © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos

Almost all the African migrants travel along the same route, guided by a network of smugglers. Once they cross into southern Libya from the Niger border, Libyan smugglers take the migrants across the desert and eventually into safe houses in Tripoli and other coastal towns, where they wait before their time to board rubber boats and attempt crossing the Mediterranean in order to reach Europe.

Moises Saman Mohamed Moseray, a migrant from Freetown, Liberia, recounting how he survived the deadly sinking of a rubber boat. He is now held at a detention center for migrants in Zawiyah. Zawiyah, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos

The conditions they are living in are truly horrible. I visited one particular detention center where about 1500 migrants were packed inside a warehouse without access to bathrooms and showers. They literally had to relieve themselves on plastic bottles and bags that they were unable to discard. Most detained migrants will be repatriated to their home countries, only to stay long enough to save enough money to try to make the journey again. For the ones that make it to Europe, it is the beginning of a difficult life in a foreign land.”

Moises Saman was working with writer MIchael Obert, on an assignment for or SZ Magazin.

Moises Saman Dozens of African women detained aboard rubber boats trying to cross the Mediterranean sit inside a makeshift detention center for women in Surman, Libya. Surman, Libya. 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos
Moises Saman A mural at the entrance of the Red Crescent offices in Tripoli, Libya. April 1, 2017. © Moises Saman | Magnum Photos