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.

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.

Dig Deeper

  • 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.


Today’s show was produced by Laura Starecheski, reported by Raphaël Krafft and edited by Taki Telonidis. 

Special thanks to France Television and WHYY for production help on this episode.

Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda.

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 – 00:17:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
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 Boarders and another group called SOS MEDITERRANEE. On this day, French reporter and Reveal contributor Raphael Krafft is on board. Now Raf, you’re on the deck of this ship in the Mediterranean sea, looking through a pair of binoculars at a small rubber boat, right?
Raphael 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 10-15 people onboard 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, ’cause the water is getting into the boat and they’re 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.
Raphael 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 speedboat coming and the Aquarius cannot approach the boat that is sinking, because on this speedboat there are two men with machine guns circling around the rubber boat that is about to sink. This is the Libyan Coast Guard.
Madeline Habib:We have to go inside the accommodation and no filming, these guys are not going to be happy about that. So if you could just go in as quickly as possible.
Speaker 1:I don’t know what doors are still open, sorry.
Raphael Krafft:Coast Guard might sound official, but these guys are from Libya where there is functioning government and we have to go inside the boat because we’ve got to get away from them and their machine guns. We’re all crowding around the port hole window trying to see what’s going on. Next to me is the midwife of Doctors Without Boarders.
Speaker 1:Ah, he’s sinking. The boat is going in the water.
Raphael Krafft:Then, [Madaline Habib 00:02:44] gets up and makes an announcement to the whole crew.
Madeline Habib:Ready?


Raphael Krafft:She is the boss of SOS MEDITERRANEE on the Aquarius ship.


Madeline Habib:We’re 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 onboard. The Libyan Coast Guard have assumed control of this operation and they are now there with one of their fast speedboats. There’s no way that that fast speedboat can take those 200 people onboard. [crosstalk 00:03:16]


Raphael Krafft:Clearly you can see that those two Libyan guys do not know what they can do. They’re only two, they have their weapons with them, Kalashnikov weapons. One of them is waving it in the air.


Madeline Habib:We are very concerned about what might happen to the people onboard 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.


Raphael Krafft:Do we have to be careful with those Libyan Coast Guards?


Madeline Habib:Yes.


Raphael Krafft:Why? Pourquoi?


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


Raphael Krafft:Has there already been incidents between [inaudible 00:04:30] and Libyan Coast Guards?


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


Raphael 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.


Al Letson:This stand-off is a crucial moment.


Raphael Krafft: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:So, what do the Europeans think of all this?


Raphael Krafft:In such a stand off 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 don’t want migrants to arrive in Europe. This is how Europe is protecting its boarders.


Marcella Kraay is the coordinator for Doctors Without Boarders on the Aquarius, and 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, 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 over crowded, and setting sail at night in the dark, going into that black hole that’s the sea at night. You spend hours and hours crammed together, and finally daylight comes and there is the Libyan Coast Guard. A boat with Libyan people onboard 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. So, what’s that like? I mean for the Aquarius to just sit there and watch?


Raphael Krafft:Well, on the Aquarius ship is just like, but when are we going to be allowed to operate the rescue.


Al Letson:I mean time is passing, how long do these people have?


Raphael Krafft:It can take hours. I talked to Max Avis. Max Avis is the guy in charge of the rescue, he’s the boss. He’s the kind of guy that you would follow to the other side of the earth with a blind eye, you know. 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, large maybe 80 gallon barrels, and they tip. Then 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. So the weight, and they’re just mixing with this intoxicating burning liquid for hours and hours and hours, and 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. Rescue people have bite marks on their legs, because they’re fighting for their lives. People’s … Like I grabbed a body and their skin just [inaudible 00:09:22] 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?


Raphael Krafft:Well, the Libyan Coast Guard actually started waiving at the Aquarius crew and apparently saying “Come, we cannot do it.”


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


Max Avis:So we’re going to rescue the rubber boat, so we’re going to …


Raphael 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 Boarders 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?


Raphael Krafft:A Zodiac is an inflatable speedboat, and I managed to find a place on one of these inflatable speedboats to perform the rescue. After about five minutes, we arrive next to the boat that was sinking. [inaudible 00:10:47]


Max Avis:Five, four, three, two, one. [inaudible 00:10:49] You doing okay?


Speaker 2:Yeah, yeah, doing great. [inaudible 00:10:50]


Max Avis:Okay, same as before. [inaudible 00:11:03] give me your hand, you give your hand to my friend. Okay, nice and easy. Good. [crosstalk 00:11:15]


Raphael Krafft:I was told to sit in the back and a guy sat next to me. He looked very young, 14, 15 years old. This guy, one hour before, was either going to die drowning or either sent back to Libya and put in jail, and he was sitting next to me. I asked him [“Ca-va 00:11:45], which means “Do you feel okay?” Then he started talking and talking.


Speaker 3: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.


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


Raphael Krafft:Women are crying, babies are crying.


Speaker 4:Thank you very much, [inaudible 00:12:42]. Thank you, thank you.


Madeline Habib:You’re welcome.


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


Speaker 5:You can do it, you’re here.


Raphael 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 5:Okay, we’re good. We’re good. Where’s your mommy?


Raphael 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. So these people are immediately taken in charge and the doctors of Doctors Without Boarders are trying to assess what is the situation, who should go where.


Speaker 5:So, what are you doing? Okay, can you give us the location and we’ll evacuate them.


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


Speaker 5:Merci. [Cava 00:13:54], English?


Speaker 6:English.


Speaker 5:How are you?


Speaker 6:I’m very fine.


Speaker 5:Great. Where are you from?


Speaker 6:Nigeria.


Speaker 5:Nigeria?


Speaker 6:Yeah.


Speaker 5:How old are you?


Speaker 6:24.


Speaker 5:24. Okay, welcome onboard.


Speaker 2:Take your bottle of water and drink a little.


Speaker 5:English?


Speaker 7:Yeah, English.


Speaker 5:How are you doing?


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


Speaker 5:Hi. How are you?


Speaker 7:Hi, fine, thank you.


Speaker 5:[inaudible 00:14:22] okay?


Speaker 7:Small small English.


Speaker 5:Where you from?


Speaker 7:Egypt.


Speaker 5:Egypt.


Speaker 7:Egypt, Uh-hum (affirmative).


Speaker 5:[Foreign language 00:14:32]


Speaker 7:[foreign language 00:14:32]


Speaker 5:How old are you?


Speaker 7:28


Speaker 5:28.


Raphael Krafft:On the deck you have hundreds of men, mostly young people who, the day before, were in Libya. 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 5:[foreign language 00:15:13]


16-1-6 man incoming. This way.


Bridge bridge we have a green light to approach with 19, 1 9 males.


Raphael Krafft:Once the rescue is over, there is a need 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.


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


After that, it’s a three days journey to Italy and the joy is overflowing from these people who have survived and are on their way to Europe.


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 8:Every group is both good and bad. Everybody has-


 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:17:04]
 Section 2 of 3          [00:17:00 – 00:34:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Jalel Harchaoui:… 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 Raphael took of this rescue, to see them just text: Rescue, to 202-873-8325. Again, that’s R-E-S-C-U-E, to 202-873-8325. You can text: Stop or Help at anytime and standard texting rates apply.


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


From the Center for Investigative Reporting and 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 Craft 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 instead of the Aquarius, what would happen to all these people then?


Raphael Craft: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:[French 00:19:08]


Raphael Craft: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 to prison.


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


Raphael Craft:Because they are considered illegal immigrants. These prisons are mostly run by militias because Libya does not have a functioning state. If a migrant wants to get out, he has to pay.


Lee Van Cleef:[French 00:19:57]


Raphael Craft:[French 00:19:58], it’s a network, Lee Van Cleef told me, of people making money off of migrants.


[French 00:20:04]


Lee Van Cleef:[French 00:20:06]


Raphael Craft:[French 00:20:06]


Lee Van Cleef:[French 00:20:08]


Raphael Craft: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.


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. How is that possible in a country in 2018?


Raphael Craft: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. For the past seven years, Libya has been a mess, and this is the country that migrants are crossing through to get to Europe?


Raphael Craft:Yeah. You have to understand this because the routes going through Europe are closing one after the other. They can hardly come through Turkey, they can hardly come through Morocco because EU has struck deals and paid billions of dollars to build up border security in those countries. 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?


Raphael Craft:Europe wants the migrants to stay in Libya, so what does Europe do? Europe finances Libyan Coast Guard, train them to make them arrest more and more people and stop them from crossing the Mediterranean Sea.


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 Jalel Harchaoui, a political scientist who studies Libya at the University of Paris.


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


Raphael Craft:Harchaoui says, “In Libya a badge and a uniform does not mean someone can be trusted.”


Jalel Harchaoui:Italy knows it. Every time Italy funds and bolsters a coast guard, they will do whatever they need to do on the side. The hope here is that the percentage of their activity is kind of decent, so if they do just 20 percent of the bad things and 80 percent 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 going to 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?


Raphael Craft: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. Doing something with your life is sometimes traveling. It’s almost like a Jack Kerouac story. One of them told me, “I want to catch life. I want to catch my life. I want to find my life.”


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


Raphael Craft:Exactly. 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.


Osase Sunday:Well, I’m [Osase 00:23:58] Sunday. I’m from Nigeria.


Raphael Craft:Osase is in his 20s. He is from Edo State from Benin City.


Osase Sunday:I’m an artist. I deal in music. I produce, so …


Raphael Craft:You were a producer, a music producer?


Osase Sunday:Yeah, I was a producer. I was also a singer. I was living well. I was earning good money from my entertainment industry. I did some [sava 00:24:23] videos like that of Black-Eyed Keith.


Speaker 9:(singing)


Raphael Craft:Osase 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.


Osase Sunday:I know one day, sometime, 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.


Speaker 9:(singing)


Raphael Craft:Did you know that you were going to live in Libya before living?


Osase Sunday:No. No. No. No, I never knew where I was. In fact, I never knew where I was heading to. You know?


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


Osase Sunday:No. No. No, before I left Nigeria, my friend who talked me into the journey, she told me pleasant things. Gave me good, good news.


Raphael Craft:Yeah, this friend told him that life in Europe would be all about hotels …


Osase Sunday:I was told, “Oh, you are going to be sleeping from hotel to hotel …”


Raphael Craft:Girls, fun …


Osase Sunday:“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?


Raphael Craft:Well, majority of people who are leaving West Africa are going to Agadez in Niger to cross the Sahara Desert, and that was the case of Osase. In Agadez, smugglers have storefronts with the prices, the quality of service. It’s not hidden at all.


When Osase 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. Very often, because migrants don’t have much money, the quality of service is very low. They end up 30 people on a four-wheel drive or a hundred people on a truck that is taking days to cross the desert. Whenever somebody falls from the truck, the truck doesn’t stop. 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 Osase Sunday.


Osase Sunday:Oh, well, actually let me break some little story down for my brothers and sisters that are listening. While were in the desert went through so many things: No food. No water. You see your brother dying. You see your sister dying. You have to even drink urine that is not yours. You have to [buy 00:27:48] urine.


Raphael Craft:You drank urine yourself?


Osase Sunday:Very well. Very well.


Raphael Craft:Did you witness some people die?


Osase Sunday:A lot. A lot. Some die of hunger. Some died of lack of water.


Raphael Craft:The danger is not only about thirst and sun and geography, it’s also about kidnapping, just like what Osase told me. Near a town called Sabha in Southwestern Libya, the truck he was riding got stopped by criminals. He was taken to what he called a “hole in the ground full of tiny rooms.” Hundreds of people were there.


Osase Sunday:On the very first day when I got there, when they pushed me down into the room, I entered the room. I slept very well that night.


Raphael Craft:What happened to him is what is happening to many migrants, not to say the majority of migrants.


Osase Sunday:Daybreak of it, I was waked with an electric shock.


Raphael Craft:He was tortured.


You were woken up by an electric shock?


Osase Sunday:Electric shock.


Raphael Craft:When I say tortured, I’m talking about beatings, electrocution.


I’m sorry to ask you … if you don’t want to answer, I’d understand but … because it must be painful too … but what part of the body?


Osase Sunday:Actually, they don’t place the wire or the electric in your body. They sprinkle water inside your room and put the electric in the water. You being inside the room, your body being inside the room, you must be shocked.


Raphael Craft: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.


Osase Sunday:Then I 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 the phone. I used our language, our traditional language to tell my dad not to remit anything for them.


Raphael Craft:What was the language?


Osase Sunday:I told him, [foreign language 00:29:52].


Raphael Craft:Edo language?


Osase Sunday:Edo language. I told my dad not to give them any ransom.


Al Letson:They tortured Osase and then he calls his dad and Osase tells him not to pay?


Raphael Craft:It’s a matter of pride. Al, Osase left Nigeria without the permission of his family, so he wanted to solve the problem alone. The problem is that the kidnappers in Libya are willing to make money at whatever cost.


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


Raphael Craft:They may be only able to get a few hundred dollars from each person, but if they get that much from hundreds or thousands of people … well, you can make a lot of money.


Osase Sunday:I have to I receive electric shock in the morning and in the evening before I sleep. After about three days, I receive [foreign language 00:31:02] in my chest, also part of my hands.


Raphael Craft:What [foreign language 00:31:07] …


Osase Sunday:[Foreign language 00:31:07]


Raphael Craft:What is [foreign language 00:31:09]. You mean knife stab?


Osase Sunday:Knife. Yeah. That is knife stab.


Raphael Craft:That’s what you showed me?


Osase Sunday:Yeah, that is what I showed you there.


Raphael Craft: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.


Osase Sunday: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.”


Raphael Craft:Osase’s dad paid his way out. $550. 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.


Osase Sunday:Tripoli. I remember the dead. A lot of people, those that died there.


Raphael Craft:In Tripoli, he hears gunshots all the time.


Osase Sunday:You don’t sleep without hearing gunshots.


Raphael Craft:He cannot stay in this place where civil war is raging.


Osase Sunday:I have no choice. I have to go straight to the seaside, look for a way of getting on to Europe.


Raphael Craft:Osase needs some money to actually cross the sea to go to Europe, so he is trying 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. Along the way, one man actually sold him to another.


Al Letson:Instead of being paid for his work, he’s threatened with torture and sold? How does anyone actually get out of Libya?


Raphael Craft:Many do not, Al. Doctors Without Borders told me that they estimate one in ten migrants who enter Libya will die there.


Al Letson:One in ten will die in Libya? That is a huge number.


Raphael Craft:Yeah. 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 Osase 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 is staying.


Osase Sunday:That fateful 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 also see what is making these people to run. What is getting these people excited?” 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.


Raphael Craft:A week late-


 Section 2 of 3          [00:17:00 – 00:34:04]
 Section 3 of 3          [00:34:00 – 00:50:35]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Speaker 10:This [inaudible 00:34:01] go to Europe.


Al Letson:And, a week later, Azazi 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.


Speaker 10:So, you managed to get on the boat without paying, without nothing?


Azazi:Exactly. Exactly, it was the grace of god. It was the grace of god.


Al Letson:Ozahzee 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 Azazi’s story in a minute and hear what happens when migrants like him hit the streets of Europe.


Azazi:[inaudible 00:34:51]


Al Letson:That’s ahead on “Reveal.”


From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is “Reveal.” I’m Al Letson. We’re picking up our story as a young Nigerian music producer, Azazi Sunday, 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. The smugglers in charge choose a few passengers; to get a compass, they didn’t have a guide, another one is told to steer. The smugglers tell them, “You’re driving this boat to Italy.”


At this point, Azazi and all the passengers are on their own.


Azazi:You have to leave your fate to god to decide ’cause these smugglers, they are not there [inaudible 00:35:58]. When you lie on top the water, when you look at your right, you don’t even see a single tree. You look out your left, [inaudible 00:36:08] empty, you have to start praying to god.


Al Letson:Out in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, Azazi’s boat starts taking on water just like the rubber boat you heard about at the beginning of the story. Azazi 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 brought us Azazi’s story and he’s here with me. Rafael, what happens next?


Rafael Craft:Well, finally, a rescue boat shows up. But, Azazi, as well as the others on the boat fear it’s a Libyan 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.


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


Rafael Craft:This rescue boat brought Azazi to the Italian island of Sicily. He was brought to Mineo 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 an investigation into the Italian mafia’s killing money and working with human traffickers there.


Azazi said, like many migrants at the camp, he was promised seventy-five euros a week, but he never got it.


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


Rafael Craft:Azazi 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 a land dispute. The authorities rejected this claim. So, now he’s living in Europe illegally and he’s not allowed to work.


Azazi:I’m not supposed to be in Italy by now because there’s no job in Italy.


Rafael Craft:What do you do to make a living? Where do you sleep?


Azazi:Well, I do beg. I do beg, you know, just to have my daily bread, you know, 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. I sleep by roadside corners.


Rafael Craft:At the moment, you sleep under-


Azazi:Under this very church, under the step of this church. That is where I sleep at the moment.


Rafael Craft:He has been sleeping here for months. To make a bit of money, he washes windshields but he can only make seven or eight dollars a day. A good day, he would get twenty to twenty-five.


Al Letson:So, Azazi, 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. So, what is he going to do?


Rafael Craft:I asked him his plans for the future, Al.


Azazi: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 live a better life that I’ve always desired to live, you know? Start off something good for myself and for generations to come because begging is not my calling. Begging has never been my calling.


Al Letson:Craft, Azazi mentioned wanting to go to France. Is your country going to be any more welcoming?


Rafael Craft: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 warlord in the Libyan city of Sabratha to stop his smuggling business.


This was widely reported and writers 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 warlord in the country.


Speaker 11: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.


Rafael Craft:That’s [inaudible 00:41:23] again, 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 it’s members.


Speaker 11:That, alone, could create shocks. It could create consequence, it could create clashes. But, Sabratha was interesting in the sense that it triggered a battle.


Rafael Craft:A serious battle. [inaudible 00:41:57] 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.


Rafael Craft: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 LaFleur, 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?


Christian LaFle:There is no money that goes to the Libyan coast guards. There has been and there is an ongoing training program to improve.


Rafael Craft:Well, this is money.


Christian LaFle: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. 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 guards, it goes to those who offer the training.


Rafael Craft:LaFleur 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 fifty 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.


Madeleine Habib:The numbers of migrant lending have gone down in the second half of 2017. Is it considered by you as a success?


Christian LaFle:I don’t know whether the former success I would point to is the radical drop in the number of people dying. Whether it’s 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 unnecessarily.


Rafael Craft:LaFleur pointed out that EU policies have also helped people trapped in Libya. More than 15,000 people from inside Libyan detention centers have been freed and returned to their home countries. But, four of his advisors were in the room during our interview and I could feel some kind of embarrassment, not only from LaFleur himself, but also from his staff. They all know what’s happening in Libya.


So does Madeleine Habib. Remember, she was the bus on the aquarius that we heard at the beginning of the show. I called 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:More and more, the NGO vessels are not being permitted to conduct rescues. They’re being tasked with the rescue and then being told that now the Libyan coast guard is now going to conduct that rescue and that they’re not allowed to be involved.


Rafael Craft: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 and it’s almost as if they’re trying to squeeze the NGO vessels out of operation.


Rafael Craft:Almost all the NGO vessels except the Aquarius and a few ships run by an NGO called SeaWatch have stopped operating. And, 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 a completely hazardous sea journey across the Mediterranean.


Al Letson:So, what ever happened to Azazi Sunday?


Rafael Craft:I tried to talk to him again.


He had a cell phone. I tried calling him many times.


Azazi, 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 Azazi did, asking to wash windshields at a stoplight.


Speaker 12:[foreign language 00:47:41]


Rafael Craft:We are in the center of Catania and they wait until the stoplight is red. They go 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.


Speaker 12:[foreign language 00:48:09]


Rafael Craft:They had not seen Azazi Sunday that day. Azazi 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, the summer, the busiest time for crossings, is just beginning and smugglers are coming up with new routes. It’s too early to tell what 2018 will bring. 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 go to That’s


Laura Starecheski was our lead producer. 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, J-Breezy, aka, Jim Briggs and Fernando, “my man, yo,” Arruda. Our acting CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided Reed and David Logan foundation, the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur foundation, the Jonathan Logan family foundation, the Ford foundation, the [inaudible 00:50:11] 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 and remember, there is always more to the story.


 Section 3 of 3          [00:34:00 – 00:50:35]

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.

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.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.