Meet Samba

Samba at his housing in a small town near Cosenza, Italy. May 2018. © Pamela Kerpius

Samba at his housing in a small town near Cosenza, Italy. May 2018. © Pamela Kerpius


Meet Samba.

28 years old and from Guinea Bissau.

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

His journey in total took 3 years and 1 month.

Samba crossed the Sahara desert in the back of a pickup truck with 40 people, including three women and one young boy; at least two of the passengers died along the way. Samba held onto a stick planted at the base of the pickup to keep from falling out. He spent seven days in the desert. 

When he arrived in Libya he went directly to a prison where he was held for three months, with very little food or water––perhaps a piece of bread once a day, and a single glass of water. He was beaten regularly with a stick or with the back end of a gun, torture endured at the hands of traffickers in an attempt to extort money from him. 

There were about 100 people in this compound, and by the end of his time there three people had died in front of him. It was unclear immediately how the three died. Samba speaks French which he used to communicate the details of this to his friend, Amadou, when his Italian wasn’t enough to tell me directly; Amadou would relay the details in our common language, English.

Near Cozenza, Italy. May 2018. © Pamela Kerpius

Near Cozenza, Italy. May 2018. © Pamela Kerpius


From our rudimentary translations, it seems people would die most frequently from starvation and from sustained beatings. When they passed, their bodies would simply be thrown in the desert.

He was sold to new traffickers. He spent seven months at a detention center in Gregara*. He did not communicate the quality of life or experience inside this location. He worked at a location in Medina, Libya, a neighborhood within Tripoli, where he worked as a painter and handyman for an unknown period.

He transferred to the Garaboulli coastal camp where he remained until embarking for the sea.

Samba crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a rubber dinghy with 130 people, including 4 women and one baby, at midnight. It was two days at sea before being rescued by an Italian vessel; all survived. Samba landed in Lampedusa on 20 May 2016, staying for one month before being transferred to a coastal town outside of Cosenza, Calabria, where we spoke in May 2018.

Samba is an amazing human being.