Abdullahi Elmi was smuggled again from Shagarab camp to Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. In Khartoum, he found a university student who made his living as a smuggler. The man collected money from Elmi and dozens of other migrants from Somalia, West Africa, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, all in search of a better life in Europe. The smuggler gave the migrants a room, with a plan to travel at night for Libya.
This is part two of a three-part series describing Abdullah Elmi’s perilous journey from Somalia to Minnesota. Read Part One, Perilous Journey, here, and the concluding article, From Malta to Minnesota, here.
There are many smugglers in Khartoum, Elmi said, and they don’t like one another. If one gets a deal, others fight to ruin it.
So Hassan Turabi, a community leader of the Somalis in Khartoum, who also puts on a smuggler’s hat, heard Elmi and the other migrants’ story: new immigrants making deals with a student-smuggler. The first thing Turabi did was set the police against the migrants — just because Elmi and his group didn’t do business with him.
“He called the police and told them that we were terrorists from Somalia,” Elmi said. “I was packing stuff, getting ready for the trip; then I heard a kick on my door.”
The second hit had the door wide open. Two men in uniforms and armed with pistols greeted Elmi with kicks and punches — with no questions raised and no names asked.
“They beat me until I didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “I was unconscious. I woke up the next day coughing and laying on a jail floor.”
Elmi and the rest of the group were detained for six days. The student-smuggler, whom Elmi didn’t identify for security reasons, hired a lawyer, who helped Elmi and other migrants gain their freedom.
After the release, they began their eight-day journey to Tripoli, Libya.
The perilous boat trip from Libya to Malta
Elmi began his sea journey on a flimsy boat with about 60 passengers — twice its capacity. It was November 1, 2008 at 6 a.m. The plan was to go to Italy, and then to a more economically vibrant European country such as England.
Elmi, 23, is the youngest of a family of nine, scattered in Somalia, Kenya, Italy, and Finland. He has big dreams — the kind of dreams typical young Americans have: a good education, a decent job, a new car, a beautiful family, and a big house.
There was no way he could make these dreams a reality in Somalia, he said. So he risked a deadly voyage on the Mediterranean Sea.
An estimated 1,500 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2011, according to the 50-page Human Rights Watch study. This is about 2.5 percent of the 58,000 people who made the crossing that year.
“The boat trips from Libya to Malta are perilous, involving basic vessels with limited navigation systems that are not seaworthy and often have insufficient amounts of food, water, and fuel,” the study stated.
Samia Yusuf Omar, a female Somali runner who participated in the 200-meter competition at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, was confirmed dead in August when her boat capsized on the way to Italy from Libya, according to a recent BBC news article.
The boat Elmi rode on was tiny and overcrowded. As a consequence, many people had to stand while it rushed through the large waves and dangerous storms. In the middle of the trip, the only captain of the boat got tired and sleepy. So he decided one of the passengers could take over.
He asked Elmi if he could sail.
“No, I’ve never done it,” Elmi told him.
Mohamud Gabax, Elmi’s friend, who had never sailed, either, said he could try. Without hesitation, the captain handed it over to him.
The captain slept, and Gabax sailed in the wrong direction for six hours. Then the sea rose and the boat became caught in a storm, causing the boat to fill halfway with water.
“I thought we were all going to die,” Elmi said. “The boat was stopped for a day in the middle of the sea.” No one on land was available to come to their rescue. Caught in between Italy and Libya, the captain and his passengers were on their own to make it or lose it.
A Russian ship eventually eyed the boat from a distance and rescued them all, including a mother and her baby girl, who had just been born on board.
This is part two of a three-part series describing Abdullah Elmi’s perilous journey from Somalia to Minnesota. Read Part One, Perlious Journey, here, and the concluding article, From Malta to Minnesota, here.