Migrant Lives

For These Three Teens, All Roads Led To Lampedusa

Young men who left Eritrea, by way of Libya, may have all ended up in Lampedusa, but they took many different paths getting there.

Kalab, Jon and Simon, young Eritrean migrants
Kalab, Jon and Simon, young Eritrean migrants
Luis Lema

LAMPEDUSA — In the Via Roma, Lampedusa’s main street, Kalab, Jon and Simon look merry. They even brag about the few euros they have in their pockets, with which they could buy themselves a soda in a café. The three Eritreans are all just 17 years old. And their escapes are similar: Had they not fled, they would have been called up for military service to "prepare for war against Ethiopia."

The young men didn't know each other at the time, but they followed the same itinerary, crossing Sudan on packed trucks, carefully avoiding the road through Egypt and the deadly trap of Sinai and winding up in Libya before eventually making the journey to Lampedusa.

They are a bit angry because Italian customs officials haven't asked for their fingerprints. This makes them fear they could get sent back to Libya. They don't know this, but in reality, Italy is in no hurry to keep them on its territory and often facilitates the departures of migrants like them to other European countries. On their phones, Jon and Simon both have the names of relatives set up in Germany. Not Kalab. But he decided that, no matter what, he'll follow his new friends.

The accounts of survivors who have arrived in Lampedusa illustrate just how diverse the paths really are to this destination. But most of them have one thing in common: having experienced the brutality of Libya's ruling militias.

Nosal, a Nigerian, stayed four months in Libya. He characterizes it as four months of "prison," during which he didn't know whether his jailers wanted to protect him from the Islamists or participate in the human trafficking that is so endemic there. He was beaten, stripped of his money and deprived of food, before being forced onto a boat.

"People spoke to me in "Muslim"" he says, meaning Arabic. Six months earlier, Nosal had fled the Boko Haram extremists, who burned down his village and killed both of his parents. "In Libya, they were the same," he says.

Inathi, just 18 years old, is an experienced plumber. He had been repairing piping for the past four years in a neighborhood of Tripoli, where he was born. Now in Lampedusa and supervised by the Italian police, he is about to board the ferry that will take him to Sicily. "Libya was my country," he says. "But I was left no choice: I paid, or I was dead."

To get to Lampedusa, he paid 500 Libyan dinars, or $365. He was led like cattle onto a small boat that left Zawiya, next to Tripoli, last April, with more than 300 people onboard.

In truth, the young Inathi had another theoretical option, which was to go to Ghana, where his family originally comes from but where he has never set foot. "I thought for a moment about leaving for Accra," he says of the capital. "I was too scared to cross the Mediterranean. But Accra is at the other end of Africa. I would have never made it. I would have been killed on the road."

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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