For Aisha, sexual slavery is something you only hear about other people in TV reports, until she finds herself trapped in a living “hell” in Libya.
“I left the nightmare, but ended up in hell,” said the immigrant from Guinea, who was attracted by the North African country where criminal gangs turned into blackmail dens.
Aisha fled her homeland after five miscarriages: for her in-laws and neighbors, she was either sterile or a witch.
But this young woman just suffers from diabetes.
“I just want to disappear from my country,” said Aisha, a hotel management graduate.
She contacted a former classmate who seemed to be making a living for herself in neighboring Libya, and she lent money to Aisha to join her.
“I didn’t even see this country. I was locked up as soon as I arrived. I was a slave. She brought a man to me and she got the money.”
Locked in a room with a toilet, she only saw the “friend” who cheated her when bringing her food, “like a dog”.
“The men are drunk. I would rather not remember it,” Aisha said, still shaking. “I thought my life was over.”
“I don’t want this to the worst enemy”
Three months later, a Libyan man took pity on her, threatened her kidnapper, and put Aisha on a bus to Tunisia with 300 Libyan dinars ($65) in her pocket.
After her diabetes was treated, she even gave birth to a baby girl at the end of last year.
She now dreams of Europe, but it is impossible to return to Libya.
“I don’t want my worst enemy to encounter this situation.”
For the past two years, she has lived with other immigrant women in Medenine, southern Tunisia.
Mongi Slim, the head of the local Red Crescent Society, said that most people who have experienced Libya have also been forced into prostitution, raped or sexually assaulted.
“Some of them, if they are protected by men, they will perform better. But for single women, it’s almost systemic,” Slim said.
According to a UN report, some immigrants stated that they were advised to take the contraceptive injection for three months before departure, and some took the pill while traveling.
Mariam, an Ivorian orphan, left with 1,000 euros to pay for the transit fee from Abidjan to Libya via Mali and Algeria.
She hopes to make enough money in Libya to go to Europe.
But she ended up spending most of the year in prison, where she was sexually exploited, and then fled to Tunisia in 2018.
“I worked with a family for six months, and then I set off from Zuwara, a port in western Libya,” said 35-year-old Mariam.
“Armed men caught us, put us in jail and abused us,” she said.
Mariam said she fell into the hands of militias who run illegal immigration camps, where extortion, rape and forced labor are common.
According to the United Nations, official centers under the control of the Libyan government, as well as places where the European Union-funded coast guard transfers potential exiles it intercepts, are also riddled with corruption and violence, including sexual assault.
“Every morning, the chief will make a choice and send the selected girls to the Libyans who rent special rooms,” Mariam said.
“They fed me bread, sardines and salad. I stayed there for a month until they moved me to another place,” she recalled, her voice full of anger.
“They have weapons, they take drugs, and they pay the chief instead of me.”
According to rights groups, men and boys have also been sexually abused.
The United Nations said in a 2019 report: “Human traffickers and smugglers continue to commit sexual violence against urban migrants with impunity on immigration routes, detention centers, judicial police prisons, and armed elements and armed groups”.
This type of criminal activity increased as the conflict in Libya intensified in 2014.
Three immigration detention centers in Libya were closed in mid-2019, and the establishment of a new transitional government sponsored by the United Nations in March gave hope for reducing impunity and violence.
The United Nations decided last year to deploy protection personnel to combat sexual crimes.
But they have not even been recruited, and the intercepted migrants are still being sent back to Libya, which frustrates international organizations.
According to the UN refugee agency, on June 12, more than 1,000 people arrested at sea were returned to Libyan prisons.