by Ali Said Faqi
Former Ambassador to the EU
In late November of 2017, as the Ambassador of Somalia to the European Union, I was a member of the delegation accompanying the Somali President attending the 4th AU/EU summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Little did I know that this trip would mark a turning point in my career, as well as my life. It was during the summit that the President pulled me aside, his eyes filled with a mix of concern and determination. We talked about the heartbreaking reports of Somali migrants stranded in Libya, facing unimaginable horrors. African youth were being sold into slavery; their lives torn apart by ruthless human traffickers. The President asked me to do everything within my power to bring our people back home. In March of 2018, as winter was relinquishing its grip on Belgium, I found myself boarding a plane to Tripoli, Libya, via Tunis. Though internally prepared for what I might encounter, nothing could have prepared me for the shocking reality that awaited me there. Upon arrival, I immediately began meeting with the Somali migrants residing in various detention centers throughout the city. Their stories were heart-wrenching and etched in my memory forever. They spoke of unimaginable brutality – beatings, abuse, and even electrocution. It was a horrifying existence that they had been forced into, simply because they were seeking a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Khalid was one of the migrants I met at the Tariqul Mataar detention center in Tripoli.
Khalid’s dream of finding a life in Europe had been shattered by the harsh realities he had faced on his way. It all started when Khalid was smuggled to Libya, across the scorching desert in 2015. The journey was difficult, fraught with danger and uncertainty. In Sudan, he was crammed in the back of a truck, surrounded by strangers who shared the same desperate hope for a better life. They endured the unforgiving desert heat, surviving on limited food and water, while constantly fearing for their lives. Upon reaching Libya, Khalid found himself in a migrant holding camp in the city of Bin Walid. It soon became apparent that this was not what he had imagined. Instead, it was a place of despair, where dreams went to die. The camp was a breeding ground for violence and abuse, and Khalid became a victim of its cruel reality. He was beaten and mistreated, stripped of his dignity, and treated like nothing more than a commodity. Khalid’s tormentors demanded a ransom of 5,000 dollars. He was obliged to call his mother, heartbroken, as he begged her to find a way to save him. He couldn’t bear the pain he was enduring. Tears streamed down his face as he heard his mother’s voice, promising to do whatever she could to pay the ransom money. With all difficulties, his mother managed to secure the money to help release her son. Khalid was then set free by the Libyan coyotes, the ruthless human smugglers who had held him captive. But his newfound freedom was short-lived. He was captured once again, this time by Libyan immigration officers who detained him in a grim detention center in Tripoli.
After hearing the horror stories and witnessing the reality in the ground, I was determined to rescue as many of these innocent souls as possible, I tirelessly navigated the treacherous maze of Libyan bureaucracy and tangled UNHCR procedures. Every day brought new challenges and obstacles, but I refused to give up. The lives of my fellow Somalis hung in the balance, and I couldn’t turn a blind eye to their suffering. In the morning of May 29, 2018, I took 150 migrants to Mogadishu aboard IOM charter flight from Tripoli. Khalid was among the few fortunate who decided to voluntarily return to Somalia. Khalid’s heart pounded in his chest as he stood in front of his small home in Mogadishu, Somalia. It had been years since he had left his mother, his wife, and his infant daughter behind, embarking on a treacherous journey that seemed like the only hope for a better future. The tearful reunions with his family served as powerful reminders of why I had embarked on this harrowing journey in the first place.
It was a bittersweet homecoming, as he reunited with his family but was burdened with the memories of his harrowing experiences.
Khalid was determined to channel his pain and experiences into positive change, one year after he made a life-altering decision. In the summer of 2019, he joined the Somali army. Drawn to the idea of serving his country. Khalid was sent to Eritrea for rigorous training. There, he was transformed into a formidable force, honing his skills as a special forces soldier and later as a Navy Officer. The grueling training regimen was nothing like he had ever experienced before. He was pushed to his limits physically and mentally, and yet he persevered, fueled by his undying determination to succeed. Months turned into years, and Khalid transformed into a formidable Navy Officer. He learnt the art of combat, tactical strategies, and the importance of discipline in every aspect of his life. His training was not limited to the battlefield. Khalid also learned valuable lessons in leadership, compassion, and selflessness. After 4 years of intense training, Khalid returned to Mogadishu a few weeks ago with a newfound sense of purpose. Few Days after his arrival to Mogadishu, I received a call from Khalid to inform me about his arrival to Somalia and the passing away of his mother in his absence. I was extremely happy to hear his voice, but at the same time deeply saddened by the news of the death of his mother.
Khalid brought his extensive training and experience from Eritrea, instilling the importance of unity, service, and sacrifice in each officer. He is a symbol of resilience and hope for the war- torn, Somalia. Now, as a Navy Officer, Khalid serves his country with unwavering dedication.
Khalid carries the scars of his past, a constant reminder of the sacrifices he has made. But every step he takes with his head held high is a testament to the indomitable spirit of a boy who left everything behind to become a soldier. And now, Khalid not only serves his country but also inspires others to never give up, to fight against adversity, and to hold on to the hope that a better tomorrow is possible.
Khalid has fulfilled his dreams of becoming a Navy Officer, but more importantly, together with his teammate, they are going to reshape the security of our seas that is afflicted by piracy and illegal fishing. In a country that had been torn apart by conflict and despair, Khalid’s story served as an inspiration for countless others. His unwavering determination, resilience, and leadership skills made him a hero to be celebrated. Khalid’s legacy lives on, reminding generations to come that even amidst the harshest circumstances, there are always opportunities for change.
My experience in Libya taught me that rescuing alone is merely a temporary solution to the migrant’s anguish. It must be accompanied by long-term solutions. We must address the root causes that drive them to leave their homes in pursuit of hope and stability. First and foremost, we must address the rampant poverty, economic inequality, corruption and nepotism that has plagued our countries. Through economic empowerment, and education, it is possible to build a future where the plight of African migrants becomes a distant memory.
(Associated Medias | FAD) – All rights reserved.