Meet Presley

Presley on Lampedusa island, four days after being rescued at sea. Lampedusa, Italy; 19 April 2017. © Pamela Kerpius

Presley on Lampedusa island, four days after being rescued at sea. Lampedusa, Italy; 19 April 2017. © Pamela Kerpius


Meet Presley.

24 years old and from Benin City, Nigeria.

To reach Lampedusa he crossed three countries: Nigeria, Niger, and the most dangerous of all, Libya.

Presley’s journey took three-and-a-half months. To leave Nigeria he was packed inside of a bus with many others––more people than he was either able to recall, count, or tell me in the moment. He said people were stacked on top of each other’s laps, and on the floor, into the gaps between the legs of seated passengers. 

Before crossing the Niger border a tire on the bus blew out. They emptied the bus, and hid in the bushes while awaiting repair. But the repairs never happened, and they were directed to bicycles, on which traveled two people for two hours until they safely crossed the Niger border. 

Presley arrived at 5:00pm, then waited until midnight to make the next transfer, since you can really only travel safely at night, in the dark. He arrived in Zinder, Niger, the country’s second-largest city that lies off the main road to Agadez; he remained in Zinder for 5 days. 

He was in a compound in Agadez with over 100 people. There was a raid. Everyone ran. He was directed to pay money to his new traffickers, 150K Nigerian Naira (NGN), to continue onward; somehow he negotiated around this, possibly from the help of a different trafficker saying he’d already paid and was clear to go.

The account is hazy. Again, even if you speak the same language (in this case, English) there are differences in phrasing and meanings to words that create translation difficulties between cultures.

Presley crossed the Sahara desert in the back of a pickup truck with 105 people. This is the highest figured I’ve had quoted yet; typically, the number is 25-40. He says people were stacked on top of each other’s laps.

The journey across the desert took six days. Two people died, one girl, and one man, who they stopped to bury on the side of the road. He said he saw “so many graves” along the way; he was scared. 

In that stage we are one.
We have to keep going
together as one.

At one point a Ghanaian girl couldn’t breath and fainted from the heat and exhaustion. Water was scarce and his supply ran out. They all chipped in and shared what remained. “In that stage we are one. We have to keep going together as one.”

He arrived in Sabha, Libya at a compound that held 85 people, including five women. They ate bread, if they ate at all. The food they ate was dependent on the money they had. If you have no money, you have no bread. Presley said they shared food in order for everyone to survive.

Prisoners in the compound were beaten with a stick on the bottom of their feet. People suffered broken bones. 

The owner of the compound raped the women held captive. If they didn’t comply, they would be beaten. This happened every day.

He says he was a slave since leaving Niger. Each compound, he says, signifies a new slave owner. So what is consistently called a trafficker here and in the news, Presley states is actually a slave owner.

He spent three weeks here in Sabha, then left for the coastal camp of Sabratha, bypassing Tripoli altogether. He stayed in Sabratha, in a makeshift tent, for two-and-a-half months eating a pasta made from a mixture of flour and tap water. To drink, he took salty tap water. 

Presley crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy with 152 people at 7:00pm on a Friday. There were “so many” pregnant women on board––not impregnated by their husbands, but by the traffickers who had raped them during captivity in Libya. One baby, just a few months old, was on board.

He was rescued on Saturday night, 15 April 2017 by the Guardia Costiera and brought to Lampedusa. 

Presley was emotionally overwhelmed when I met him in the old port while I was passing by on errand. He said no one else had said hi to him or his two friends, Michael and Desmond (also both 24 and from Nigeria), since he arrived on the island. He is safe here now that he has arrived, but he is isolated.

He said he is thankful to God that he is alive.

Presley is an amazing human being.