Meet Yoro

12 days after Yoro was rescued at sea. In Lampedusa, Italy. 28 April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius

12 days after Yoro was rescued at sea. In Lampedusa, Italy. 28 April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius


Meet Yoro.

22 years old and from Brikama, Gambia.

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

His trip took about 9 months. He spent one month in Agadez, Niger chopping trees for work, which would then be burned for charcoal fuel.

Yoro crossed the Sahara desert with 28 people in the back of a pickup truck; he had five liters of water. There was one boy he met in Agadez traveling with him, but he says he was not healthy or strong, and he fell out of the truck when it was climbing a hill. He hit a stone when he landed and died. The truck stopped for three hours while the passengers laid him to rest in a makeshift grave. 

Yoro spent nine days in total in the Sahara, a travel time of more than double the usual. He spent 24 hours with no food. Water ran out. He used his shirt to make a pouch to hold water from a source the driver acquired along the way.

He arrived in Bahaye*, his first stop after crossing the national border into Libya. He was locked inside a compound there for two weeks, where he received a half-liter bottle of water to drink daily, and a piece of bread that was shared among a number of others. 

The next transfer was to Sabha, but his driver never showed up. They called a contact in Agadez to find out what went wrong, and as a contingency plan, the trafficker in Agadez sent an Arab man to move them instead. Yoro says at this point they were forced to leave with him.

He was stacked inside of a car with 27 people. Some were laying down, everyone is squeezed like cargo into a crate to make as many humans as possible fit: the more people you transfer, the more money you make.

Yoro arrived in Sabha and stayed in the city for one month.

“Sabha is very hard. Very, tough place. You cannot go out or they will cut you.”

Four men he knew were cut because they left the compound; Yoro never left because he was too afraid. He spent his days surviving on salty water that gave him stomach pains. He said the compound was run like a military camp.

He transferred to Bani Waled and remained there for six months, working, and then enduring prison. 

“Sometimes when you have a good man who can take you to work, at the end of the day he pays you.” But Yoro was not always paid. 

He worked for one full week for a man who finally never gave him his wage. He complained, and was told he had no right to because he was a slave. The Arab man called the police for Yoro’s disobedience and he was thrown in prison for two months.

He said there was a cluster of camps in the area, all prisons. People were beaten and starved daily inside. “Every day people are dying because of hunger. Every day people are dying.”

He was beaten seriously and was given electric shock through his feet. His back was beaten with a pipe. He said before he left prison, “almost 40 people died in front of me.”

Almost 40 people died in front of me.

The beatings and torture were done as leverage for ransom payments. He would be given a cell phone to call his family while he was being tortured, but he never got through to anyone and had no money to give. He was beaten anyway.

It was a Friday, he said, when the Arab men were fighting among themselves. It was the distraction he and about half of that prison population needed to escape. 

He returned to the slave owner who turned him over to the police demanding payment and medicine. He remained there in Bani Waled for three more days until that man agreed to give him 30 dinars and some medicine.

He was taken to Tripoli by numerous car transfers, and in total the trip took him two weeks. He was inhumanely packed into these cars as well. There was a compound in Tripoli with about 300 people where he stayed for one week.

He transferred to the coastal camp of Sabrathalin* and camped there without shelter for one month. It rained on him while he slept. 

On a Friday night, Yoro crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy with 168 people, including 30 women, two of whom were pregnant, and six children. He sat on the edge of the raft with his feet dangling in the sea water. 

He was out at sea for 10 hours before he was picked up by the Guardia Costiera and taken to Lampedusa, arriving 6:00am Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017.

When he woke up on his first day in Lampedusa his mind went blank. He thought he was still in Libya. But he survived.

Yoro is an amazing human being. 

City name and spelling not verified.

Read Yoro's one-year followup story, recorded May 2018 >

In Lampedusa, 28 April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius

In Lampedusa, 28 April 2017. ©Pamela Kerpius

Friends: Yoro,    Ousman    wearing my cap, and    Baboucarr   . 28 April 2017; Lampedusa, Italy. ©Pamela Kerpius

Friends: Yoro, Ousman wearing my cap, and Baboucarr. 28 April 2017; Lampedusa, Italy. ©Pamela Kerpius