Said, 16, describes ordeal at the hands of traffickers before becoming one of just four children to survive disaster in Mediterranean.
Said’s journey from Somalia began about a year ago; it has not quite ended yet. The 16-year-old was trying to make his way to Norway, where his parents hoped he would meet relatives, but his journey was interrupted on the shores of Italy after his survival against the odds in the catastrophic shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
He is one of just four children who have lived to tell the story of the disaster that killed up to 950 migrants from Africa who were desperate to reach Italy. About100 children are believed to be among the dead, according to witness accounts collected by Save the Children, the aid agency that is working with migrants and focuses on meeting the needs of traumatised children who have made the treacherous journey.
The aid group said 2,500 children could die in the Mediterranean by the end of the year if the current trend continues.
Said arrived in Sicily on Monday night. His parents had put him in the care of Sudanese traffickers last summer in an attempt to get one of their children – he also has five sisters and three brothers – to Norway.
His odyssey began with a journey across the desert until he reached the Libyan border, where he was taken and held by armed smugglers for nine months until his parents were able to pay for the first part of his trip.
He wasn’t the only child there. Said told Save the Children that he witnessed other children being mistreated, and some dying from starvation and illness. Once his parents paid the smugglers, he was sent to Tripoli.
It was a terrifying ordeal that took six days. In that time, Said hid constantly and was afraid of being held captive again by the smugglers.
Once he got to Tripoli, he became just one of thousands of migrants who are waiting to make the journey first to Italy and then – for many – other parts of Europe.
Said said that at 11pm on 18 April he was put on a rubber dinghy which transported him to the now-notorious fishing boat. The date does not match a statement released on Tuesday by prosecutors in Catania, who said they believed the boat left Tripoli on 16 April.
Said said there were many nationalities represented on the boat, including people from Mali, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal. He overheard smugglers – who have been compared to modern-day slave drivers by Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi – saying they wanted to get 1,200 people on board but stopped at 800.
Another survivor has estimated that as many as 950 people could have been on the boat. Only 28 survived, including the alleged captain of the ship and one of his crew members. Both have been accused of multiple manslaughter. Their attorney could not be reached for comment.
According to Said’s statement, passengers were beaten as they got on board and many were locked in holds under the boat.
On the night of 19 April, the smugglers made a distress call, Said said. When the lights of a cargo vessel called the King Jacob became visible, the desperate passengers lunged to one side of the boat, and it capsized.
Said remembers fainting, and then woke up.
He told aid workers that he is tired and hopes to complete his journey to Norway, although he has no money and is unsure of his next move. The only thing he does know is that he does not want to rely on smugglers to get there.