‘My Wife was Raped by a Libyan Smuggler’

Kebebew Kassahun had tried to dissuade his wife from travelling to Europe but she was resolute and 18 months later, after she made it to Germany, he found himself having to follow her, taking the risky boat crossing across the Mediterranean.

Photo: Jason Florio / MOAS

Photo: Jason Florio / MOAS

He was rescued by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) on May 14 with another 560 migrants off the Libyan coast.

When he arrived in Libya he stayed at a holding site with 600 other migrants living under very poor conditions, until the smugglers picked them up and boarded them onto a wooden boat.

He had been on the road before. Originally from Ethiopia, he left his country, fleeing political persecution 20 years ago. He eventually settled in Khartoum, where he worked as a security guard for an American University. But his wife found life in Sudan difficult and wanted to leave, but Kebebew felt the journey was too risky.

When his wife called from Germany he received some terrible news. His wife had been raped by a smuggler when she was waiting to board the boat in Libya, and she had now given birth to a child.

He decided that he had no other option but to make the life-threathening journey across the Mediterranean. Kebebew said the voyage was extremely tough, and that he would never have left had it not been absolutely necessary.

“Why would I leave my family, my brothers and sisters, risking my life, if it was not absolutely necessary?”

The migrants he was travelling with were all crammed together under the deck in a dark room where they could not move, as they were told not to unbalance the boat.”It was just so hot! If you moved, they said we would die”, he said, adding that the smugglers would not even let them make a noise.

They prayed together, hoping for the Europeans to come and rescue them. Luckily, they did.

Kebebew’s biggest wish now is to get to Germany, reunite with his wife, and see the child he considers to be his own. He is also looking forward to furthering his education. “I always had an interest in books but never got the chance to study beyond 12 years of age. I would like to pick that up and further my education to be a resource, rather than a burden.”

The story of Kebebew’s wife is not unique. In May of this year, a report released by Amnesty International claimed migrants in Libya often face systematic torture, rape and some times death at the hands of people smugglers as they wait to make the sea crossing.

They are normally held in “collection houses” for days, and some times weeks before enough migrants have been gathered to make the crossing profitable.