Bishop offers heartbreaking eyewitness account of Libya’s ‘illegal’ migrants

The Coadjutor of the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli in Libya has offered a snapshot account of the situation in the troubled country and the “distorted perception” illegal migrants have of Europe.

Currently in Rome, Bishop George Bugeja told the Fides news agency that while the situation in Libya “is generally calm” there are occasional clashes between those militias who are currently vying for supremacy. “Under these conditions we have to move very carefully,” the bishop said.

On the estimated 235,000 migrants gathered in the country in the hope of making the perilous Mediterranean trip to Europe, Bishop Bugeja described an ongoing story of desperation on the part of Africa’s deprived. 

“They come from Nigeria, Niger, some from Burundi, Sierra Leone and in general from sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “Migrants enter Libya through the southern city of Sebha and then go to Tripoli, most of them with the intention to cross the Mediterranean to travel to Italy and the rest of Europe. Those who come to me ask for blessings for the Mediterranean crossing. I try to dissuade them from running this risk, especially when there are children. But they are determined to continue the journey at all costs. They say: ‘Here we do not have a future. Maybe we will find it in Europe, if not for us, for our children’. 

“Unfortunately there are now hundreds of thousands of people who reason this way, and the only answer I can think of to try to block these flows is to ensure that Europe and the US will help the countries from which these migrants leave to improve their social and economic conditions.”

Bishop Bugeja went on to relate how migrants are being duped with promises of a better life in Europe by traffickers keen to take their money. 

“Most of the migrants have a largely distorted perception of Europe, because traffickers promise them that they will find work, will make a home, and so on, just to rob them of their savings,” he said. 

“To travel from their country to Sebha, and then from there to Tripoli, large sums in US dollars are paid. Then to embark on the boats to Europe, traffickers ask minimum US$1,000 per person.”