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Walid crossed the sea to escape the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. It almost cost him his life.

Saved by an Italian helicopter

Walid crossed the sea to escape the regime of  Muammar Gaddafi. It almost cost him his life.

By: Ismael

Walid is 36 years old and from Lybia. In 2003 he fled the repressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi. He went to Tunisia with the intention of sailing illegally across the Mediterranean to Europe. It almost cost him his life. “I went to Sifaxe, a harbour where the smugglers keep their boats. I had a Tunisian friend who helped me find a boat,” he says.

Walid’s friend got in contact with a smuggler who wanted 500 Euro to take him across the sea. “I was obliged to give him all my money, everything I had saved for this journey,” he says.

On the day of boarding the smuggler himself did not show up. Instead another man,  who was the captain,  came and showed them the boat, “The boat was an old fishing boat. When a boat is too old for fishing the smugglers buy it to ferry people over the sea. The boats can carry 40 people, but many of these “mafia” smugglers load in around 80.”

When Walid was about to start his journey, 83 passengers between the ages of  20-40 had turned up. Walid did not feel good about the situation but there was nothing to do about it, “The boat was too narrow for so many men and we were packed tight like sardines in a tin. It revolted me but I had to resign myself to the situation because I wanted to go to Europe,” he says.

Hope turns to despair
Walid and the other passengers started their journey. The captain had brought bread, milk and water for the crossing. The captain told Walid and the others that they would reach Italy within 14 hours. But after 20 hours they still hadn’t reached the shore but that was not the worst of it. “On the second day the engine suddenly stopped working. There was no more fuel. We were about three hours from the Italian shore but we were helpless,” Walid says.

It didn’t stop there. The sea itself was not showing her nice side and the waves were as high as mountains: “Whenever the boat was in the hollow of the waves we thought that this was the end; the sea would swallow us and we would all die.”

Walids nightmare was far from over. The rough sea had made a hole in the boat and the water was coming in fast. Walid recalls the despair of everyone on the boat, “A true panic spread to me and the others. Some began bailing out the water by any means possible, with their hands, plates, pots… others were saying their last prayers,” he says.

The rescue
The despair amongst Walid and the others continued until early morning after the third night. At this moment their eyes caught sight of the lights of another boat, “As soon as we saw it we made a fire out of our t-shirts, waved and cried out for help.”

The boat did not stop,  but simply sailed on past. “At that moment we lost the last bit of hope and just waited for the boat to sink,” Walid recalls.

While they waited for the boat to sink, they heard a sound in the sky, “There was complete silence in the boat, and then suddenly cries and shouts of joy. ”A helicopter, a helicopter!” At this moment the hope of staying alive returned to me and I was so unbelievably happy,” he says.

Walid and the other passengers nearly died on the crossing to Italy but thanks to the Italian navy they reached the shore of Lampedusa on the third day at 1pm.

Walid is now living in the Sandholm Centre and is still waiting for his claim for political asylum to be resolved. 



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