Meet Yanks

Yanks, about 10 days after arriving on Lampedusa island from his rescue on the Mediterranean. Lampedusa, Italy; April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius

Yanks, about 10 days after arriving on Lampedusa island from his rescue on the Mediterranean. Lampedusa, Italy; April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius


Meet Yanks.

20 years old and from Serekunda, Gambia.

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

His journey took just over one year. He reached Agadez, Niger after two weeks of travel from Senegal, where he briefly stayed. 

He crossed the Sahara desert in pickup truck with 25 people, a voyage that took two weeks. The desert crossing was more than twice as long as the average duration for him because after leaving Agadez the truck was attacked by Arabs who took all of the passengers’ money and held them hostage for one week. His driver was shot in the leg. “Everyone was scared,” he said.

He reached the border and was held in Baye, Libya (city name and spelling unverified) for a week, where his captors sought payment. 

He then reached Sabha, Libya, where he remained for three months. He was able (unlike others who’ve given me their accounts) to leave the compound, which he did daily for work. He found construction jobs that paid him 5-10 dinars a day. 

He was robbed and his money was stolen once; the rest of the migrants around him were scared by this. There was a Gambian man hired by Arabs who would kidnap black people and throw them in jail to be held for ransom; the threat of this particular man was so strong that Yanks was warned of his reputation all the way from Bani-Waled and Tripoli, Libya, where, apparently, he conducted his business.

Yanks left for the coastal camp of Sabratha and stayed there with no shelter, place to sleep, nor a place to bathe, for six months. When I saw him in late April 2017, he showed me the scars on his arms and hands from the sores he developed on his skin from not washing. Nor was he able during this time to brush his teeth.

The water is salty tap water, and unfit for drinking and even washing. Bottled water is expensive, so with what little money he had, sometimes he would use bottled water to dilute the tap.

You don’t see nothing.
You don’t see no light.

There were more than 500 people in Sabratha during his stay. He said it was safe inside the camp, “only outside is the problem,” where migrants faced further threat of kidnapping and being thrown into slavery. 

Beings “safe” inside the camp, as I understand it now, means that you are under the surveillance of your current captors, the traffickers who have brought you here, to the point at which you will remain, until you finally board the boat to cross the sea. 

Which is to say, the current traffickers at the camp are your “owners.” Yanks said there was the threat that even after you boarded the boat, the traffickers were known to sell you to a new owner for 300-500 dinars. At that point, should it occur, a migrant returns to a new cycle of slavery and, financially, starts from scratch to secure liberty from Libya: the Mediterranean crossing.

Yanks crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a Friday at midnight in a rubber dinghy with 141 people, including 21 women, five of whom where pregnant. There was one baby. He was out to sea for 12 hours.

I asked him to describe the sea. “You don’t see nothing. You don’t see no light.”

He was rescued by the Guardia Costiera and brought to Lampedusa, arriving at 6:00am on 16 April 2017, Easter Sunday.

Yanks is an amazing human being.