Meet Almameh

At Piazza Vittorio, Rome, Italy. 1 March 2019. © Pamela Kerpius

At Piazza Vittorio, Rome, Italy. 1 March 2019. © Pamela Kerpius



Meet Almameh.

19 years old and from Gunjur, Gambia.

To reach Italy he crossed six countries: The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and the most dangerous of all, Libya.

His journey took over a year, departing Gambia on Friday, September 25, 2015.

He stopped in Burkina Faso for one month, then traveled to Naimey, Niger, then Agadez, Niger and remained there looking for work for one month. He worked as a laborer with cinder blocks; in return, his employers paid his fare to cross the desert.

Almameh crossed the Sahara desert in the back of a pickup truck with 25 people. Water ran out, but they found wells along the way to fetch more. He saw bodies discarded in the desert. He traveled across the Sahara for one week in total; all survived.

His first stop in Libya was Sabha, where he remained for three months. He left in search of work but was captured by Arab men and held in detention for his entire stay. This was akin to prison he said. He was beaten and tortured by electric shock, and told to call his family in The Gambia to pay for his release, but he had no one to call. Instead, in lieu of money he was held for slave labor.

Among a group of other migrants, they orchestrated an escape. He ran––he spent the whole night running. The traffickers behind him were shooting. People scattered in the gunshots and he lost track of most others.

“Everybody is just thinking about themselves,” Almameh said about the fray among the gunshots.

He spent a month in a camp in a small, unnamed city. Then onward again to another unknown town somewhere between Sabha and Tripoli.

He arrived in Tripoli where he met Mustapha, and where he stayed for three months. It was risky to go out for work, Almameh said. He was kidnapped and held for the full three months in the Tripoli city limits.

Do or die. That is the option.
You break out of prison or you die.

The story then was much the same as it was in Sabha: he was tortured by electric shock while his captors demanded ransom money from family he did not have. He escaped again, unsure of what would happen.

“Do or die. That is the option. You break out of prison or you die,” Almameh said.

More than 300 people were at the seaside camp of Zuwarah when he arrived. It was a risky existence. If you stay safe in the confines of the camp, there is no food or water to survive. On the other hand, if you leave to buy food or water, you risk being kidnapped by local Libyans.

Almameh crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy with 136 people on 3 November 2016, a group that included 15 women, an unnamed number of children, plus two babies––one two months old, the other four days old; Mustapha traveled in the same boat as Almameh.

Almameh was among the younger passengers, so he was placed on the floor of the boat, which slowly filled with water over the hours.

People were panicking. This group of passengers departed with a supply of water, but it was not enough for them all; another passenger threw it overboard to avoid fighting that could upset the balance of the boat.

Almameh saw an airplane go by. He saw a rescue boat too, but it missed them.

He was finally rescued by the Guardia Costiera, the Italian coast guard, and landed in Trapani, Sicily on 5 November 2016.

Almameh is an amazing human being.