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 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.
"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
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.
"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
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.
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.