Ermias Ghermay and his gangs are responsible for smuggling thousands of people across the Sahara to the Libyan coast. There they dispatch them to Europe on rickety boats, having extorted thousands of dollars from them along the way. Here are three accounts from a Sicilian prosecutor’s report of what it is like to fall into the group’s grip, according to Sky News.
:: A Eritrean woman. She was only 18 years old when she made the journey to Europe.
“Last July together with my 130 companions (of which 20 were women), whilst we were walking in the desert between Sudan and Libya we were stopped and forced at gunpoint to get into some vans and in small groups were forcibly taken into a house by approximately 50 Somali and Sudanese men.
Inside the house in question after having locked us in a big room they took our personal belongings from us one by one, using our mobile phones to call our families and demand a ransom for our release.
We were forced to stand all day long and they made us watch others being tortured by various means, including batons, electric shocks to the soles of the feet and in the worst cases, for those who rebelled, a rope was tied between their legs and their neck so even the slightest movement meant that they began to be suffocated.
The Somali who was in charge of the house personally contacted all our families demanding the money, and armed with a gun, threatened us several times and made his men hit us with batons for trivial reasons. I was sexually assaulted by this man and his accomplices.
In fact, one night when I was apart from the group, I was forced by him and two of his men to go outside. The threw me to the floor, held my arms down and covered my mouth, and then threw petrol over my head, burning my scalp, my face and my eyes. Not content with that, they sexually abused me.
All the 20 girls were subjected to sexual violence. My attackers didn’t use protection, not caring about my young age or the fact I was a virgin.
Another time two girls were forced outside by the Somali and two of his men, who intended to rape them. After about an hour, only one of the girls returned. She told us they had been forced into a car, driven to the desert, where they were raped by the three men. They tried to escape but she was blocked and she thinks her friend was caught and killed.”
:: An Eritrean man who was 35 when he left for Europe.
“The journey from the house where I was held captive to Tripoli involved five different methods of transport, and was organised by the kidnappers. Each time we changed vehicles the drivers knew when and where to do it.
When we arrived in Tripoli our friends in Sudan told us that Ermias was the person who organises travel to Sicily. We called him and he organised for us to be taken to one of his houses.
In the place where we were kept near Tripoli there were about 600 people. It was kind of a farm in the countryside. All we were given to eat was bread twice a day.”
:: An Eritrean man who was only 23 when he made the journey.
“My group changed means of transport eight or nine times on the way to Tripoli. The Somali organised the vehicles and each time the driver of the vehicle contacted the next driver to continue the journey.
To be transported to Sicily Ermias wanted $1,600 that had to be paid to someone in Israel. After having paid, we had to wait another month before we were put on a boat to Sicily. Ermias only ever visited us once in the evening. He was short and stocky.”