African migrants fleeing persecution or seeking opportunity often end up in Libya, where they are tortured and trafficked. Many try to escape to Europe, only to be intercepted at sea and returned to Libya. On this episode of Reveal, we trace their journey and explore how Europe’s immigration policy is helping Libyan warlords and putting migrants at risk. This episode was originally broadcast May 19, 2018.

In the first segment, reporter Raphaël Krafft takes us to the open waters off the coast of Libya, where a small boat carrying migrants is trying to flee the country. The boat is filled beyond capacity and starts to take on water and sink. A rescue ship run by nongovernmental organizations from Europe is poised to help, but a coast guard boat from Libya intervenes, creating a standoff at sea.

Next, we learn why so many migrants – mostly from Africa – end up trapped in Libya and about the conditions they face when they’re there. Krafft meets a young Nigerian man named Osaze Sunday, who was held for ransom and trafficked in Libya before attempting to escape by boat to Italy.


  • See: The reporter’s photos from the ship.
  • Listen: Raphaël Krafft’s previous Reveal episode, a first-person account of how he accidentally became a migrant smuggler.


Raphaël Krafft, Laura Starecheski, Taki Telonidis

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is “Reveal.” I’m Al Letson. Today, an episode we first aired in May of this year.
It’s September 2017 in the Mediterranean Sea. A huge red ship called the Aquarius, almost the length of a football field, slows its engines about 25 miles off the coast of Libya. This is a rescue ship, staffed by Doctors Without Borders and another group called SOS Méditerranée. On this day, French reporter and “Reveal” contributor Raphaël Krafft is on board.
Now, Raph, you’re on the deck of this ship in the Mediterranean Sea looking through a pair of binoculars at a small rubber boat, right?
Raphaël Krafft:That is the case, Al. This is a Chinese rubber boat that is not very reliable. It is meant to have not more than 10 to 15 people on board and it’s packed, filled with more than 100 people. With the binoculars, you can clearly see the people are scared. You can see the faces of the people who are screaming because the water is getting into the boat. They are trying to get the water out with their hands because they don’t have tools to actually get the water out of the boat.
Al Letson:I’ve been seeing scenes like this for the past few years on the news. Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, from all over Africa, they’ve died trying to make this 300 mile crossing from Libya to Europe. Today, you’re going to take us through that journey up close. I should say to our audience that this journey includes some descriptions of violence and torture.
Raphaël Krafft:Yeah, and you’ll hear it’s even more dangerous than it was before.
As I’m looking in the binoculars, there is this speed boat coming. The Aquarius cannot approach the boat that is sinking because on this speed boat there are two men with machine guns, circling around the rubber boat that is about to sink. This is the Libyan Coast Guard.
Speaker 1:You guys have to go inside the accommodation. No filming. These guys are not going to be happy about that.
Raphaël Krafft:Okay.
Speaker 1:If you could just go in as quickly as possible. I don’t know what doors are still open. Sorry. [crosstalk 00:02:20].
Raphaël Krafft:Coast Guard might sound official but these guys are from Libya, where there is no functioning government. We have to go inside the boat because we got to get away from them and their machine guns. We’re all crowding around the porthole window, trying to see what’s going on. Next to me is the midwife of Doctors Without Borders.
Speaker 2:It’s sinking. The boat is going in the water.
Raphaël Krafft:Shit.
Then, Madeleine Habib gets up and makes an announcement to the whole crew.
Madeleine Habib:Ready?
Raphaël Krafft:She is the boss of SOS Méditerranée on the Aquarius ship.
Madeleine Habib:We are currently 26 miles north of the coast of Libya. Behind me, you can see a small rubber boat that, according to the Italian Navy helicopter, has more than 200 people on board. The Libyan Coast Guard have assumed control of this operation and they are now there with one of their fast speed boats. There’s no way that that fast speed boat can take those 200 people on board. [crosstalk 00:03:20].
Raphaël Krafft:Clearly, you can see that those two Libyan guys do not know what they can do. They are only two. They have their weapons with them, Kalashnikov weapons. One of them is waving it in the air.
Madeleine Habib:We are very concerned about what might happen to the people on board this rubber boat. We’ve known in the past that there have been terrible interfaces between the Libyan Coast Guard and people fleeing Libya. Our concern is that people may jump into the water. They may find themselves in a more dangerous situation than they’re already in, which is why we’re standing by, maintaining a respectful distance, and we’re always ready to help.
Speaker 3:[inaudible 00:04:01] the rubber boat and [crosstalk 00:04:09].
Raphaël Krafft:Do we have to be careful with this Libyan Coast Guards?
Madeleine Habib:Yes.


Raphaël Krafft:Why? Pourquoi?


Madeleine Habib:The Libyan Coast Guard is not what one might consider an extremely organized border force control, and they may operate in an erratic manner.


Raphaël Krafft:Has there already been incidents between the NGOs and Libyan Coast Guards?


Madeleine Habib:There have been incidents, and some of them have resulted in gunfire.


Raphaël Krafft:When the Libyan Coast Guard is handling a rescue, they don’t have much consideration for the people they rescue. When they put them on their boat, they do not hesitate to beat them. They even left migrants to drown.


This standoff is a crucial moment. What is about to happen will decide which shore these migrants land on. If they are rescued by the Coast Guard, they will end up in Libya. If they are rescued by the Aquarius, they will arrive safely in Europe.


Al Letson:What do the Europeans think of all this?


Raphaël Krafft:In such a standoff, the EU, the European Union, is on the side of the Libyan Coast Guard. The EU has helped train them to take charge of more rescue. That is how much they do not want migrants to arrive in Europe. This is how Europe is protecting its borders.


Marcella Kraay is the coordinator for Doctors Without Borders on the Aquarius. She told me what was happening to migrants when they were brought back to Libya.


Marcella Kraay:Libya, which is a country that’s very violent, lawless, fractured, with a lot of extortion, maltreatment, torture, sexual violence.


Raphaël Krafft:Kidnapping.


Marcella Kraay:We can even say slavery, people being taken by people and made to work without pay, taken into captivity arbitrarily without knowing when they’re going to get out.


If you imagine coming from that kind of situation, imagine how desperate you must be to then get into a small rubber boat, which is completely overcrowded, and setting sail at night, in the dark, going into that black hole that is the sea at night. You spend hours and hours cramped together. Finally, daylight comes and there is the Libyan Coast Guard, a boat with Libyan people on board, with the Libyan flag, and they’re going to take you back to that hell you’ve just escaped.


Al Letson:That hell is where all those people on that sinking rubber boat just came from. What’s that like, for the Aquarius to just sit there and watch?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, on the Aquarius ship, it’s just like, “But when are we going to be allowed to operate the rescue?”


Al Letson:Time is passing. How long do these people have?


Raphaël Krafft:It can take hours. I talked to Max Avis. Max Avis is the guy in charge of the rescue. He is the boss. He is the kind of guy that you would follow to the other side of the Earth with a blind eye. You trust him. He told me that people drowning and water filling a boat that is about to sink is more complicated than it sounds.


Max Avis:Basically, people out here die because of being crushed by each other. The boats sink and, as they start to sink, the fuel canisters are large, maybe 80 gallon barrels, and they tip. You get this environment where the salt water and the fuel mixing starts … Well, the first effect is it makes you a little high because you’re breathing in liters and liters, hundreds of liters of fuel. After the first hour, it starts to itch. Then, after a few hours, it starts to burn. Then, after a few more hours, it starts to peel your skin off your legs and your backside and your arms and whatever part of you is in contact with that. The weight … They’re just mixing with this intoxicating, burning liquid for hours and hours and hours and hours. It goes on and on and on. Because they’re also high at this point, they start to panic very easily.


Eventually, you find them and they’ve been there and there’s dead people between their legs, floating around. Rescued people have bite marks on their legs because they’re fighting for their lives. People’s … I grabbed a body and their skin just [phew 00:09:25] like that. It is horrifying. This is a form of hell, I think.


Al Letson:Does the Aquarius find some kind of way to rescue these people?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, the Libyan Coast Guard actually started waving at the Aquarius crew, apparently saying, “Come. We cannot do it.”


Madeleine Habib:SOS, MSF, we are proceeding to rescue the rubber boat. Everybody, please go to your stations, ready to rescue the rubber boat.


Raphaël Krafft:So we’re going to rescue the rubber boat?


Max Avis:So we’re going to [crosstalk 00:10:07].


Raphaël Krafft:There is a kind of scramble on the Aquarius. All the crew on the ship knows what to do in that situation. The field hospital, the little hospital run by Doctors Without Borders on the ship, is getting ready to welcome people in cases of emergency. They put two Zodiacs in the sea.


Al Letson:What’s a Zodiac?


Raphaël Krafft:A Zodiac is an inflatable speed boat. I managed to find a place on one of these inflatable speed boats to perform the rescue.


After about five minutes, we arrive next to the boat that was sinking.


Max Avis:[inaudible 00:10:51]. Five, four, three, two, one. You okay?


Speaker 4:Yes.


Max Avis:You’re doing great, okay? [inaudible 00:11:04]. Okay, same as before. [inaudible 00:11:06], give me your hand. You give your hand to my friend. Okay. Nice and easy. Good. [inaudible 00:11:15].


Speaker 4:[inaudible 00:11:15].


Max Avis:Easy. Nice and easy.


Speaker 4:[inaudible 00:11:21].


Raphaël Krafft:I was told to sit in the back. A guy sat next to me. He looked very young, 14 or 15 years old. This guy, one hour before, was either going to die, drowning, or either sent back to Libya and put in jail. He was sitting next to me and I asked him, “Ca va?,” which means, “Do you feel okay?”


Ça va?


Speaker 5:Ça va bien, ça va bien.


Raphaël Krafft:Then, he started talking and talking.


Speaker 5:[inaudible 00:11:56] Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup.


Speaker 6:Thank you. Thank you so much. We are so glad. You saved my life. We have all suffered too much. We have suffered too much. Too much. God will reward you. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the words. We are so happy.


Speaker 5:Sommes tellement contents.


Al Letson:The speed boat is zipping back and forth, bringing people to the Aquarius as fast as possible. Now, Raph, you were on deck when they came aboard, so what did you see?


Raphaël Krafft:Women are crying, babies are crying.


Speaker 7:Thank you very much. [inaudible 00:12:42]. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Speaker 8:You’re welcome. It’s our pleasure.


Raphaël Krafft:What happens is that they almost fall on the deck when they arrive on the Aquarius. The job of the crew is to actually hold them.


Speaker 8:Up, up, up. Up, up, up. You can do this. You can do it. Here.


Raphaël Krafft:Because, if they fall down, that means the people behind them can’t board, and the whole rescue slows down.


Meanwhile, behind them, out in the sea, the rubber boat is still sinking.


Speaker 8:Okay. We’re good, we’re good. Where’s your mother?


Raphaël Krafft:You know, you have these women, they have been for hours and hours and hours at sea. They are dehydrated. Their children are dehydrated. The youngest was one month old. These people are immediately taken in charge and the doctors of Doctors Without Borders are trained to assess what is the situation, who should go well.


Speaker 9:An unconscious person at the moment on the rubber boat. Okay, can you give us the location and we’ll evacuate them.


Raphaël Krafft:It’s like war medicine. You have to make choices very fast and, eventually, other people can arrive and arrive and arrive.


Speaker 10:Merci. Ça va? English?


Speaker 11:English.


Speaker 10:English. How are you?


Speaker 11:I’m very fine.


Speaker 10:Great. Where are you from?


Speaker 11:Nigeria.


Speaker 10:Nigeria.


Speaker 11:Yeah.


Speaker 10:How old are you?


Speaker 11:24.


Speaker 10:24.


Speaker 12:24.


Speaker 10:Okay, welcome on board.


Speaker 12:Take your bottle of water and drink a lot of water.


Speaker 10:English?


Speaker 13:Yeah, English.


Speaker 10:How are you doing?


Raphaël Krafft:These people are from Mali, Guinea, Nigeria. Sometimes even boatloads of Libyans fleeing their own country have been rescued.


Speaker 10:Hi.


Speaker 14:Hi.


Speaker 10:How are you?


Speaker 14:Fine, fine. Thank you.


Speaker 10:English is okay? [crosstalk 00:14:27].


Speaker 14:Small, small English.


Speaker 10:Where are you from?


Speaker 14:Egypt.


Speaker 10:Egypt.


Speaker 12:Egypt?


Speaker 14:Egypt, uh-huh.


Speaker 10:[massam 00:14:36].


Speaker 14:[mass 00:14:36].


Speaker 10:How old are you?


Speaker 14:28.


Speaker 10:28.


Raphaël Krafft:On the deck, you have hundreds of men, mostly young people who, the day before, were in Libya.


Speaker 10:Welcome.


Speaker 14:Welcome. Thank you, thank you.


Raphaël Krafft:Some of them have their shirts torn, some of them are almost naked. All of them have traces of petrol on the body, salt water drying on their body, and you cannot refrain from thinking what happened to them when they were in Libya because you can see scars on their backs, on their shoulders. It is known and documented that these people are tortured.


Speaker 10:[inaudible 00:15:15]?


Speaker 15:Sénégal.


Speaker 10:Sénégal.


Speaker 12:Sénégal.


Speaker 15:Oui.


Speaker 10:Très bien.


Speaker 17:16, 1-6, man incoming.


Speaker 16:Step right this way.


Speaker 18:[inaudible 00:15:24], wonder if we have the green light to approach with 19, 1-9, male.


Speaker 19:[cheering 00:15:33]


Raphaël Krafft:Once the rescue is over, there is a need, you know, to break the pressure. Aquarius crew has drums that they give to calm down people, in fact, and to let them explode in joy, especially this time because no one had died during the rescue.


Speaker 19:[music 00:15:53]


Raphaël Krafft:Everybody was dancing. There was a lead dancer and a lead singer and the guy at the drum. Every now and then, somebody would enter the circle, the central circle, to make a short 10, 15 second dance, and then would be replaced by another one.


Speaker 19:[music 00:16:20]


Raphaël Krafft:After that, it’s a three day’s journey to Italy. The joy is overflowing from these people who have survived and are on their way to Europe.


Speaker 19:[music 00:16:36].


Al Letson:These people are headed to Europe. They’re the lucky ones. When we come back, we’re going to hear what can happen to people who aren’t so lucky, the ones who get picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard and sent back to Libya, only that Coast Guard, like other institutions there, can’t be trusted.


Speaker 20:Every group is both good and bad. Everybody has some extracurricular activities on the side, including fuel smuggling, drug trafficking, and human smuggling.


Al Letson:Still, Europe continues to give them support. We’ll pick up that story when we come back.


We have a few beautiful but also heartbreaking photos Raphaël took of this rescue. To see them, just text “RESCUE” to 510-757-1447. Again, that’s “RESCUE,” R-E-S-C-U-E, to 510-757-1447. You can text “STOP” or “HELP” at any time. Standard texting rates apply.


You’re listening to “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
 Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 – 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Al Letson:The best way to get all of our stories without anything in between is just an email in your inbox. Our investigations change laws, minds, and sure, we like to say it, the world. Be among the first to read them. To sign up, just text newsletter to 63735. Again, text the word newsletter to 63735. I’ll see you in your inbox.


From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.


We’ve been tracing the journey of migrants crossing through Libya on their way to Europe and the increasing dangers they face along the way. Some of these people are refugees fleeing conflict in places like Sudan and Syria. Some from countries like Eritrea are escaping dictatorships and political persecution. French reporter, Raphael Krafft, went to the Mediterranean Sea last year to witness the rescue of a rubber boat that was about to sink. Now the migrants on this boat, mostly West African people, escaped from Libya, an extremely dangerous place. They were rescued by an NGO ship called, The Aquarius, and taken to Europe. Raph, earlier it looked like the Libyan Coast Guard might do this rescue instead of The Aquarius. What would happen to all these people then?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, I can tell you what one of these guys told me because it happened to him on an earlier attempt to escape Libya. This is a guy from Cameroon in Central Africa. His name is Lee Van Cleef, just like the actor.


Lee Van Cleef:[foreign language 00:19:49]


Raphaël Krafft:Well, he said that the first time he attempted to reach Italy, he went on this boat and he was launched as he says in his words. And after a few miles, he was stopped by the Libyan Coast Guard who took them and they brought them back to the shore and sent them prison.


Al Letson:The Libyan Coast Guard brought him to a prison? Why?


Raphaël Krafft:Because they are considered illegal immigrants. And these prisons are mostly run by militias because Libya does not have a functioning state. So if a migrant wants to get out, he has to pay.


Lee Van Cleef:[Foreign language 00:20:37]


Raphaël Krafft:[Foreign Language 00:20:39] it’s a network, Lee Van Cleef told me, of people making money off of migrants.


Lee Van Cleef:[Foreign Language 00:20:45]


Raphaël Krafft:It’s like an infernal circle, picked up, sent to prison, pay to be freed, back to smuggler, picked up by Libyan Coast Guard, back to prison again.


Lee Van Cleef:[Foreign Language 00:21:02]


Al Letson:These migrants have become … I’m uncomfortable saying this, but they’ve become a commodity to buy and sell. I mean, the whole thing is reminiscent of the United States during slavery times. But how is that possible in a country in 2018?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, Libya is not a country. I mean, it’s a country. But there’s no state. It’s anarchy.


Al Letson:Raph, I should say that anarchy is the effect of the United States and its allies toppling dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. And so for the past seven years, Libya has been a mess and this is the country that migrants are crossing through to get to Europe?


Raphaël Krafft:Yeah, and you have to understand that’s because the routes going through Europe are closing one after the other. They can hardly come through Turkey, they can hardly come from Morocco, because EU has struck deals and paid billions of dollars to build up border security in those countries. So today, the only way for migrants is to go through Libya. And it’s the most dangerous route.


Al Letson:If Libya is that dangerous and it’s the main migration route, how is Europe handling that?


Raphaël Krafft:Europe wants the migrants to stay in Libya so what does Europe do? Europe finances Libyan Coast Guards, train them to make them arrest more and more people, and stop them from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. And it’s working. Last year they picked up 20,000 migrants. But controlling what the Libyan Coast Guard does is not that simple. That’s according to [Gilles Le Garrec 00:22:49], a political scientist who studies Libya at the University of Paris.


Speaker 20:Every group is both good and bad. Everybody has some extracurricular activities on the side including fuel smuggling, drug trafficking, and human smuggling.


Raphaël Krafft:[inaudible 00:23:08] in Libya, a badge and the uniform does not mean someone can be trusted.


Speaker 20:And Italy knows it. Every time Italy funds and bolsters a coast guard, they will do whatever they need to do on the side. And the hope here is that the percentage of the activity is kind of decent. So they do just 20% of the bad things and 80% of the useful things. Italy considers itself very happy.


Al Letson:Raph, I know you’ve interviewed an official from the European commission and reported in Italy about these policies. And we’re gonna get to the Europe side in a minute, but I want to go deeper on Libya now. Why do people keep falling into this trap? I mean, haven’t they heard by now what’s happening in Libya?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, you have a lot of young people from West Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, who do not have job opportunities in their country, who do not have the opportunity to study. And they want to do something with their life. And doing something with your life is sometimes traveling. It’s almost like a [inaudible 00:24:15] story. One of them told me, “I wanna catch life. I wanna catch my life. I want to find my life.”


Al Letson:So they’re leaving with a sense of hope.


Raphaël Krafft:Exactly. And I actually met a guy like this in Catania, Italy. He was picked up by a different rescue ship back in 2016.


First of all, I would like you to introduce yourself.


Max Avis:Well, I’m [inaudible 00:24:39] I’m from Nigeria.


Raphaël Krafft:[Ozazi 00:24:42] is in his 20s. He’s from Edo State. From Benin City.


Max Avis:I’m an artist, I do love music, I produce so-


Raphaël Krafft:You were a producer. A music producer?


Max Avis:Yeah, I was a producer and I was also a singer. I was living well. I was earning good money from my [inaudible 00:25:00] in the street. I did some [inaudible 00:25:04]


Raphaël Krafft:[Ozazi 00:25:14], he seems to me, very optimistic. He has a deep look. You cannot guess what’s the story behind this guy. He told me part of the reason he left Nigeria was that he was threatened over a land dispute. So much has happened to him. He wants to write a book.


Max Avis:I know one day, some time, a day will come. I will write a novel about it. I believe by then I will be able to tell the full story. By then I will be able to tell the full story.


music:[inaudible 00:25:48]


Raphaël Krafft:Did you know what you were gonna live in Libya before leaving?


Max Avis:No, no, no, no. I never knew where I was. In fact, I never knew where I was heading to.


Raphaël Krafft:When you left Nigeria, did you know about the kidnapping and torture in Libya?


Max Avis:No, no, no. Before I left Nigeria, my friend who talked me into the journey. She told me pleasant things, get me good, good news.


Raphaël Krafft:Yeah, this friend told him that life in Europe would be all about hotels.


Max Avis:I was told you are going to be sleeping from hotel, to hotel-


Raphaël Krafft:Girls, fun.


Max Avis:You are going to be seeing different girls of different kind. You are going to be eating different kind of food. Good, nice stories.


Al Letson:Okay, so explain to me his route. How did he get from Nigeria to Europe?


Raphaël Krafft:Well, the majority of people who are leaving West Africa are Agadez in Niger to cross the Sahara Desert and that was the case of [Ozazi 00:27:02]. In Agadez, smugglers have store fronts with the prices, the quality of service, it’s not hidden at all.


So when [Ozazi 00:27:20] arrives in Agadez, he does like all migrants there is that he’s asking several smugglers what is the best way to get to Southern Libya. And very often because migrants don’t have much money, the quality of service is very low. And they end up 30 people on a four wheel drive or 100 people on a truck that is taking days to cross the desert. And whenever somebody falls from the truck, the truck doesn’t stop. So you have a lot of people dying this way. A lot of people dying also of thirst and hunger. And that’s almost what happened to [Ozazi 00:28:02] Sunday.


Max Avis:Well, actually let me break some little story down for my brothers and sisters that are listening. While we are in the desert, went through so many things. No food, no water, no. You see a brother dying, you see a sister dying. No. You have to even drink urine that is not yours. You have to buy urine.


Raphaël Krafft:You drink urine yourself?


Max Avis:Very well, very well.


Raphaël Krafft:Did you witness some people die?


Max Avis:A lot. A lot. Some die of hunger, some died of lack of water.


Raphaël Krafft:And the danger is not only about thirst, and sun, and geography. It’s also about kidnapping. Just like what [Ozazi 00:28:54] told me. Near a town called Sabha in Southwestern Libya, the truck he was riding got stopped by criminals and he was taken to what he called a hole in the ground full of tiny rooms. Hundreds of people were there.


Max Avis:So on the first day when I got there, when they pushed me down into the room, I entered the room, I slept very well that night.


Raphaël Krafft:What happened to him is what is happening to many migrants. Not to say the majority of migrants.


Max Avis:So [inaudible 00:29:27] I was whipped with an electric shock.


Raphaël Krafft:He was tortured.


Woken up by an electric shock.


Max Avis:Electric shock.


Raphaël Krafft:When I say tortured, I’m talking about beatings, electrocution.


I’m sorry to ask you. If you don’t want to answer, I understand because it must be painful to … But what part of the body?


Max Avis:Actually [inaudible 00:29:50] the wire or the electric in your body. They’ll sprinkle water inside your room and put the electric in the water. So you being inside the room, your body being inside the room, you must be shocked.


Raphaël Krafft:And after a few days, he was asked the phone number of his family so he could call them to ask them for money to release him.


Max Avis:Then they called my dad. They spoke with my dad and told my dad the ransom he was to bring. Then my dad told them to give me phone. And I used our language, our traditional language to tell my dad not to [inaudible 00:30:29] anything for them.


Raphaël Krafft:What was the language?


Max Avis:I told him, [Foreign Language 00:30:33]. That is Edo.


Raphaël Krafft:Edo language.


Max Avis:Edo language. So I told my dad not to give them any ransom.


Al Letson:So they tortured [Ozazi 00:30:49] and then he calls his dad. And [Ozazi 00:30:52] tells him not to pay?


Raphaël Krafft:It’s a matter of pride. Al, [Ozazi 00:30:58] left Nigeria without the permission of his family. So he wanted to solve the problem alone. The probably is that the kidnappers in Libya are willing to make money at whatever cost.


Al Letson:How much money can they really make from families of people who may be desperate refugees and have probably paid all the money they had to a smuggler?


Raphaël Krafft:They may be only able to get a few hundred dollars from each person. But if they get that much from hundreds of thousands of people, well, you can make a lot of money.


Max Avis:After receive electric shock in the morning and in the evening before I sleep. [inaudible 00:31:39] three days I receive [inaudible 00:31:43] in my chest and some part of my arms.


Raphaël Krafft:What?


Max Avis:[inaudible 00:31:49]


Raphaël Krafft:What is … You mean knives [crosstalk 00:31:52]


Max Avis:Knife. Yeah, that is [inaudible 00:31:53]


Raphaël Krafft:That’s what you showed me?


Max Avis:That is what I showed you there.


Raphaël Krafft:You can see on his chest, you can see on many parts of his body the dagger stabs that he received. They look like long, deep cuts.


Max Avis:The pain was too much. I have to tell my dad, “Please, you have to look for a solution. Give them what they requested for.”


Raphaël Krafft:[Ozazi’s 00:32:19] dad paid his way out. $550. And then when he’s out, he has to pay another smuggler to take him to Tripoli in a truck. When he gets to Tripoli three days later, that’s when he sees that Libya is a war zone.


Max Avis:Tripoli. If I remember the deaths of lot of people. Those that died there. Oh.


Raphaël Krafft:In Tripoli, he hears gun shots all the time.


Max Avis:You don’t sleep without hearing gun shots.


Raphaël Krafft:He cannot stay in this place where civil war is raging.


Max Avis:So I have no choice. I have to go straight to the sea side. Look for a way of getting down to Europe.


Raphaël Krafft:[Ozazi 00:33:07] needs some money to actually cross the sea to go to Europe. So he’s trained to work. He thinks he has found a construction job, but then he ends up getting kidnapped again and threatened with torture a second time. And along the way, one man actually sold him to another.


Al Letson:So instead of being paid for his work, he’s threatened with torture and sold? I mean how does anyone actually get out of Libya?


Raphaël Krafft:Many do not, Al. Doctors with our borders told me that they estimate one in 10 migrants who enter Libya will die there.


Al Letson:One in 10 will die in Libya. I mean, that is a huge number.


Raphaël Krafft:Yeah, and right now, there are anywhere between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants in Libya. Many of them will stay and work and make their lives there. As has always been the case. Then there are people like [Ozazi 00:34:01] who are trapped and desperate to leave. He has no money to pay a smuggler. He has no idea how he’s going to escape. But then one night, he hears a commotion on the beach nearby where he’s staying.


Max Avis:That faithful night, I saw people running into the sea. Running into the sea. Running into the sea. I said, “Where are these people going to? Let me go and also see what is making these people to run. What is getting these people excited.” So when I got there, I saw a boat. Wow. It was at that first time that I knew this is the way to Europe. This how people go to Europe.


Raphaël Krafft:And a week later, [Ozazi 00:34:46] saw another rubber boat was loading. He run over, mixed in with the crowd of people, and snuck aboard. And finally, he could see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.


So you managed to get on the boat without paying, without nothing.


Max Avis:Exactly. Exactly. It was the grace of God. It was the grace of God.


Al Letson:[Ozazi 00:35:13] was packed into this cheap rubber boat with so many people he could barely move. The smugglers launched him out into the Mediterranean pointed towards Italy. We’ll pick up [Ozazi’s 00:35:24] story in a minute. And hear what happens when migrants like him hit the streets of Europe.


Speaker 21:[Foreign Language 00:35:29]


Al Letson:That’s ahead, on Reveal.


From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’re revisiting a story we first aired in May.


 Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 – 00:36:04]
 Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 – 00:51:40]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Al Letson:Today, we’re revisiting the story we first aired in May. We’re picking it up as a young Nigerian music producer, [Osaze Sande 00:36:07], has just snuck onboard a small rubber boat on the coast of Libya. He’s a part of a steady flow of migrants from mostly African countries trying to flee Libya to get to Europe. The flimsy boat is crammed with people so close together it’s hard to move. Smugglers in charge choose a few passengers. Two people get a compass. They are now the guides. Another person is told to steer. Smugglers tell them “You’re driving this boat to Italy.” At this point, Osaze and all the passengers are on their own.


Max Avis:You have to leave your fate to God to decide because the smugglers, they are not there with you. Everybody in the boat are passengers. When you are on top of the water and look out to your right, you don’t see any dry land. You don’t see a single tree. You look out your left, this empty [inaudible 00:36:56], it’s empty. You have to start praying to God.


Al Letson:Out in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Osaze’s boat starts taking on water just like the rubber boat you heard about at the beginning of this story. Osaze tries to bail it out, but all he has are his hands and he has no life jacket. The waves are so strong, he feels like they are tearing the boat apart. French reporter, Rafael [Craft 00:37:26], brought us Osaze’s story, and he’s here with me. Rafael, what happens next?


Raphaël Krafft:Well finally a rescue boat shows up, but Osaze as well as the others on the boat fear that it’s the Libyans Coast Guard coming to take everyone back to Libya. Everyone on the sinking boat is looking to see what flag the rescue ship is flying.


Max Avis:We finally saw the flag, that it was Italian rescue.


Raphaël Krafft:This rescue boat brought Osaze to the Italian island of Sicily. He was brought to [Mineo 00:37:57] camp. This is the largest migrant camp in the country. It’s in the middle of nowhere surrounded by barbed wire. This place is overcrowded with thousands of people. There’s not enough food, and there’s even an investigation into the Italian mafia’s skimming money and working with human traffickers there. Osaze says, like many migrants at the camp, he was promised 75 euros a week, but he never got it.


Max Avis:I received cigarettes. Every three days, I was given a packet of cigarettes.


Raphaël Krafft:Osaze lived at Mineo camp for about a year, and then he was asked to leave so he had nowhere to go. He went to the nearest city, Catania, in Sicily. He had applied for asylum. He claimed he had been threatened in Nigeria over land dispute. The authorities rejected this claim so now he’s living in Europe illegally which means he’s not allowed to work.


Max Avis:I’m not supposed to be in Italy by now because there’s no work. There’s no job in Italy.


Raphaël Krafft:What do you do to make a living? Where do you sleep?


Max Avis:Well I do beg. I do beg just to have my daily bread, just to have something to put in my tummy. As for the sleep, once the day gets dark, I look for any corner, look for a blanket, and cover myself there, sleep by roadside corners.


Raphaël Krafft:At the moment, you sleep under-


Max Avis:Under this very church, on the step of this church. That is where I sleep at the moment.


Raphaël Krafft:He’s been sleeping here for months, and to make a bit of money, he washes windshields, but he can only make $7 or $8 a day. The good day, he would get $20 to $25.


Al Letson:So Osaze, a music producer, survives the Sahara Desert and torture in Libya and a rubber boat crossing the Mediterranean. Now, he’s sleeping outside of a church in Italy and he hasn’t found a way to settle there. What is he going to do?


Raphaël Krafft:I asked him his plans for the future, Al.


Max Avis:Well I try to make plans. Well I’m planning to leave Italy this month or next month by the special grace of God. I’m heading to France to look for a good job and lead a better life that I’ve always desired to lead, start up something good for myself and for generations to come because begging is not my calling. Begging has never been my calling.


Al Letson:[inaudible 00:41:01], Osaze mentioned wanting to go to France. Is your country going to be any more welcoming?


Raphaël Krafft:No. No, Al. Italy is on the front lines. Migrants land there first, but France doesn’t want them either. No country in Europe really does. That’s why the EU has funded Italy’s support of the Libyan Coast Guard, and the strategy actually goes beyond that. They’re trying to stop the smugglers in Libya from launching the boats in the first place. Last summer, Italy convinced at least one war lord in the Libyan city of Sabratha to stop his smuggling business. This was widely reported and Reuters got the story first. They negotiated through the interim government in Tripoli which is partly funded by Italy, but they cannot buy influence with every war lord in the country.


Speaker 20:Exactly. When you decide to go around and distribute money, it implies automatically that you’re going to go and pay a finite number of militias. We’re talking about a country that has thousands of them.


Raphaël Krafft:That’s [inaudible 00:42:11], the Libya expert from the University of Paris. He says supporting one militia to stop it from smuggling makes other militias jealous. Italy denies paying militias in cash of course, but that militia in Sabratha told the Times of London that Italy promised boats, vehicles, and government salaries for its members.


Speaker 20:That alone could create shocks. It could create disappointments. It could create clashes, but Sabratha was interesting in the sense that it triggered a battle.


Raphaël Krafft:A serious battle. [inaudible 00:42:46] says that what Italy is doing is actually fueling the chaos in Libya.


Al Letson:So Italy is making things worse and the European Union is backing Italy?


Raphaël Krafft:Yeah. I wanted to know, Al, what the EU has to say about the consequences of the Libya policy so I went to Brussels to ask. I met Christian [Leffler 00:43:10], a deputy secretary general at the European Commission. That’s the office that actually implements EU policy. Sometimes Coast Guard units are run by militias. Corruption is high. Can you explain how this money goes to the Libyan Coast Guards and how this program works?


C Leffler:There is no money that goes to the Libyan Coast Guards. There has been a training. There is an ongoing training program to improve-


Raphaël Krafft:This is money.


C Leffler:No, it’s not money. This is training that is being done by European Coast Guard organizations principally but not exclusively in Italy and a number of other member states as well. There is … I mean apart from paying for a bed and food for those who are part of the training, there is no money involved. None of that money goes to the Libyan Coast Guard. It goes to those who offer the training.


Raphaël Krafft:Leffler did not mention that Italy has already given at least four new boats to the Libyan Coast Guard and the European Union has invested almost 50 million euros in this project. Now, there is even a new plan to give the Libyan Coast Guard even more boats and new equipment by 2020. Meanwhile, every single global human rights group you can think of is crying out for Europe to stop empowering the Libyan Coast Guard to bring migrants and refugees back to Libya.


The numbers of migrant landing in Italy have gone down in the second half of 2017. Is it considered by you as a success?


C Leffler:I don’t know whether … I mean the former success I would point to is the radical drop in the number of people dying. Whether it’s in the number of people dying in the Mediterranean or the estimated drop in the number of people dying in Sahara, that is the biggest success. We may be considered a soft touch, but we don’t like people dying unnecessarily.


Raphaël Krafft:Leffler pointed out that EU polices have also helped people trapped in Libya. More than 15000 people from inside Libyan detention centers have been freed and returned to their home countries, but four of his advisers were in the room during our interview and I could feel some kind of embarrassment not only from Leffler himself but also from his staff. They all know what’s happening in Libya.


So does [Madeline Habib 00:45:42]. Remember, she was the boss on the Aquarius that we heard at the beginning of the show. I call her on Skype to know what she saw had changed since the rescue mission I went on a month ago. She told me that the Libyan Coast Guard presence had only become more dangerous and intimidating for NGO rescue ships.


Madeleine Habib:The more and more the NGO vessels are not being permitted to conduct rescues, they’ve been tasked with a rescue and then been told that now the Libyan Coast Guard is now going to conduct that rescue and that they’re not allowed to be involved.


Raphaël Krafft:Meanwhile, Italian prosecutors have actually brought criminal cases against NGO rescue crew members. The claim is that these rescue crews have been helping smugglers bring people to Europe. In March, a Spanish NGO’s rescue ship was impounded by Italy.


Madeleine Habib:The boat has since been released, but this kind of pressure on the NGO vessels is making it much more difficult to operate. There is less of a sense of cooperation with the European authorities. It’s almost as if they’re trying to squeeze the NGO vessels out of operation.


Raphaël Krafft:Almost all the NGO vessels except the Aquarius and a few ships run by an NGO called Sea Watch have stopped operating. Conditions in Libya are deteriorating which means things are even more dangerous for migrants who get picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard and for Libyans themselves.


Madeleine Habib:Since last year, we have noticed that there have been quite a few Libyans who were making this journey. That’s an indication of just how unstable the conditions are in Libya and what a dangerous country it is that people would consider attempting the completely hazardous sea journey across the Mediterranean.


Al Letson:So whatever happened to Osaze Sande?


Raphaël Krafft:I tried to talk to him again. He had a cellphone.


Speaker 22:[inaudible 00:47:48].


Raphaël Krafft:I tried calling him many times. Osaze, this is Rafael Craft, the French journalist you met in Catania. I was wondering if you were still in Sicily or if you had reached France as you told me. He never answered. Before I left Italy, I went back to find him after our interview, but I only found his two friends, Godwin and Richie. They are from Nigeria too and they too were begging at the same place Osaze did, asking to wash windshields at a stoplight. We are in the center of Catania and they wait until the stoplight is red. They got to the cars, knock at the windows of the drivers. When the window is open, they have a little conversation with Italians, and most of the drivers are nice to them.


They had not seen Osaze Sande that day. Osaze must have met so many people during his journey: good people, bad people. All his encounters were ephemeral including mine. I never heard from him again.


Al Letson:Thanks to reporter Rafael Craft for that story. So far this year, arrivals to Italy are still way down compared to the height of the migrant crisis, but since we first aired this episode, Italy has cracked down even more. Starting in June, Italy refused to allow any NGO rescue ships to dock at all. Now, the NGOs have to find other countries who will accept the rescued people on board. Italy has also pledged to give more boats and equipment to the Libyan Coast Guard. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of migrants are stuck in official and unofficial detention centers in Libya.


You can see a photo essay from Rafael Craft on our website with some really moving photos from the Aquarius Rescue at Sea. Just got to That’s Laura Starecheski was our lead producer with help from Phoebe Petrovic. Our show was edited by Taki Telonidis. Special thanks to France Television and WHYY for production help on this episode. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy AKA Jim Briggs and Fernando “My Man Yo” Arruda. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle’s our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Commorado Lightning 00:50:53].


Our support of Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. Remember, there is always more to the story.


Speaker 23:From PRX.


 Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 – 00:51:40]

Laura Starecheski is a former senior radio editor for Reveal. Their radio work at Reveal has won a national Edward R. Murrow, a duPont-Columbia, and a Peabody, among other awards. Previously, they reported on health for NPR’s science desk and traveled the United States with host Al Letson for the Peabody Award-winning show “State of the Re:Union.” Their Radiolab story “Goat on a Cow” won a silver award for best documentary from the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and SOTRU's “The Hospital Always Wins” won a national Murrow Award. They have been a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental health journalism and a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan. Starecheski is based in Philadelphia.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.