Meet David

David (Bakary David) on Lampedusa island after his rescue on the Mediterranean. Lampedusa, Italy; May 2017.  © Pamela Kerpius

David (Bakary David) on Lampedusa island after his rescue on the Mediterranean. Lampedusa, Italy; May 2017. © Pamela Kerpius


Meet David.

19 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 two years.

It took two weeks and five days to arrive in Agadez, Niger, where he stayed for one week.

From Agadez, he says, the journey is different because the people who transfer you next are Libyan traffickers. 

He crossed the Sahara desert in the cab of a pickup truck with 38 people. “It was like being on another planet,” he says. He had 10 liters of water for himself, and without stopping completed the trip in two-and-a-half days. Everyone in the truck survived.

His first stop in Libya was Gadron* where he stayed for two months on the second floor of the building where he was employed as a housekeeper and dishwasher.

David transferred to Sabha, Libya next. He stayed there in the city limits for one month.

“To be honest, it was good for me in Sabha.” He had an Arab friend that kept him protected, providing everything from good food like chicken and stew, to clothes. His friend even paid for his trip to Tripoli. 

Things were moving swiftly for David. By the time he reached Tripoli he knew Italy would be his next stop.

Another black man, but not Gambian, he said, helped him find work from an Arab man in the city. The job offer as a cement mixer was a struggle because he is neither trained in the work, nor was he in sufficient health to manage it. Lifting too much put pressure on his heart, which is weak, and he would get chest pains. He managed half a day for 20 dinars, and ended up walking away from it.

He returned to his drop-off point, to the compound he stayed at with over 200 other migrants. There were about ten rooms, but they were still not big enough to house everyone, so some people would sleep outside. Food and water was a struggle. David lived there for two months. 

During his days, he found alternative work as a gardener and housekeeper, earning 10 dinars a day; that comes out to roughly $7.45 USD, or a little over six Euros. His employer agreed to pay for his boat in Garabulli as well.

Those five months I was out of my senses.
Sometimes I was unconscious.

He arrived at the coast. He helped push the boat into sea. After two hours on the water the trip was already over: he was captured by Libyan police and taken to prison in Tripoli. Here, David’s story takes a nightmare turn.

He says the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was in dialogue with the Libyan authorities who picked him up, and to whom they declared any migrants they arrested would be deported, not imprisoned. 

In the end, David figured it was just lip service to appease the IOM, because he spent five months in a prison named Suq al Ahad**. 

“Those five months, I was out of my senses. Sometimes I was unconscious,” David told me. 

He was beaten seriously with strikes from a gun, hard blows over his head that went on for almost a week. 

He was instructed to call his family for money. There is a contact in Tripoli migrants will call; then, the Tripoli contact will dial the designated family member from the migrant’s origin country. He told his captors no one in his family had money, and he never attempted a call because of that. He was beaten over his head, and with something like a pipe over his knees.

The over 200 prisoners staged a break one day. He was among the first out the door. In the shuffle, a lot of them fell, including him. He stood up and staggered on, directionless. He saw an orange grove in the distance. He rant to it and hid. He ate one of the oranges for energy. It was the first bit of vitamin C he had had in months. He started running again, still without direction, and since he was coming from prison, he had no shoes, which caught the eye of a man nearby.

He was a hunter, David says, and called to him to help. David was reluctant, but he went anyway. He told the Libyan man the name of the prison he had come from and the man knew it was bad. 

David described what it was like inside. There were more than 50 women kept separate from the men, and he was explicit that they had it “worse.” However, he had no knowledge of sexual abuse. People were sick and dying though, but no nurse or doctor was available to them.

...migrants were sold...for
around 500 dinars

The man finally helped him find a doctor, because his knees hurt badly, and there were other serious cuts and bruises across his body. He developed headaches from the blows he took. He says he will lose track of time and the days of the week. For that, he isn’t sure how long he spent in Tripoli before he made it to the coast again.

He recovered enough to work as a gardener and housekeeper. He was aware of “many” people who would be brought to a market where migrants were sold by their “employers” for around 500 dinars a person, sometimes 1000 dinars; he was in fact among them. 

He arrived in the coastal camp of Sabratha where he stayed for two months. He had chest pain. There was no bed or floor, so he slept on the ground in the bush. There was only tap water available, which was untreated and not suited for drinking. He ate a porridge made of flour and water, sometimes he’d get pasta like spaghetti or macaroni, or sometimes a bit of rice. Sometimes, though, no matter what he ate, he’d vomit. Likely on account of the water that was making him sick.

David crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy at 4:00am with 141 people, including more than 15 women, one child, and one baby boy. David arrived in Lampedusa on Saturday, April 15, 2017. 

“Thank God I’m safe,” he said.

David is an amazing human being.


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


* City names and spellings not verified.

** Suq al Ahad prison is located in Tarhunah, a town 65 kilometers southeast of Tripoli.

Lampedusa, Italy. May 2017.  © Pamela Kerpius

Lampedusa, Italy. May 2017. © Pamela Kerpius