Tripoli, 11 July 2022 – When Ime* left Nigeria in 2016, she hoped to find ways of providing for her family. At only 18, she owned and ran a hair salon back in Nigeria for four years. Due to the challenging economic situation in the country at that time, she was forced to abandon her business.
She later met a close friend who offered to pay for her transportation to Europe and secure her a job. She was very excited about the offer and gladly accepted. For her, this meant that her future would drastically improve.
Her family, on the other hand, were not happy upon hearing the news. They feared what might happen to her en route. Ime, however, was determined to turn her life around. From Lagos, she travelled to Agadez in Niger, and then further on to Sebha in Libya.
“We spent more than a month on the road and faced many challenges. We were sitting in the back of the truck in the blazing sun. I was frightened each time I looked over at my friend who had travelled with me from Nigeria and the rest of the girls; I could read exhaustion across their faces,” Ime recalls. “Those were the worst days of my life.”
The journey saw them traverse through Sebha, a week later in Tripoli, and afterwards, on the boat that would take her on her first attempt to cross the sea. Having heard success stories from people who had made it to Europe, Ime felt confident that it would go well.
Hours into her journey, the boat malfunctioned, and they found themselves stranded at sea. The Libyan search and rescue guards found them and returned them to shore.
“I was just happy to be alive,” Ime says.
According to the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) latest Maritime Update, over 9,000 migrants have been returned to Libya between January and June 2022, including 656 women and 342 children. Upon return to shore, they were all assisted by IOM's direct assistance and mental health and psychosocial support team.
After her first attempt to cross the waters to Europe, Ime was brought back to Tripoli and detained for a few months until she was hired by a Libyan family as a housekeeper. Her sole purpose was to work and save enough money to try to cross again.
A year later, she met a Ghanaian man and got married. However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, her husband lost his job and the two struggled to make ends meet. She finally managed to put aside enough money to cross again and convinced her husband to accompany her in the hopes of reaching Europe this time.
During this period, Ime found out that she was pregnant with her first child, and they were thrilled. Sadly, she lost the baby at 28 weeks.
“I felt hopeless and cried myself to sleep each night. The only person I could rely on was my husband, who convinced me to try again for a baby.”
Later that year, Ime’s dream of getting pregnant again came true, while her dream of travelling to Europe was slowly taking shape as well. Her husband was reluctant to let her travel, fearing the risks of losing the baby again, but Ime was relentless to secure a better life for her unborn child.
In March 2021, together with her husband, she embarked on the journey across the waters, with more nerves and anxiety this time around. “I kept praying to God to save us.”
After 48 hours at sea, they were intercepted by the Libyan coast guards and returned to Tripoli. This time, they were received by staff from IOM but decided to not tell anyone about her pregnancy.
A few weeks later, Ime lost her second baby and was devastated.
She, however, did not give up on having a family of her own and, for the third time, got pregnant. This time, she discussed her situation with her Nigerian friends who referred her to IOM. This past February, she decided to visit IOM’s office in Tripoli and was attended to by a gynaecologist.
When Ime first met with IOM’s Dr Sarah Alnaemi, she was 10 to 11 weeks pregnant. “Most migrants come to our office for antenatal follow-up to take the essential drugs we provide and to prep them for delivery. We refer them to the hospital to help them have a safe delivery,” says Dr Alnaemi.
“We accept all cases referred to us by IOM. Most of the time, we admit the patient at the time of delivery, but we conduct all sorts of procedures, depending on individual needs,” explains Dr Ramadan Elgantri, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Consultant at a private clinic in Tripoli.
Managed by IOM, the office assisted over 7,000 migrants in 2021 alone, who, just like Ime, found themselves stranded with no means to continue their journey abroad nor go back home.
IOM’s health team in Libya continues to support migrants and ensures that all migrants have the right and access to health care. Since January 2022, the team has assisted 431 pregnant migrants and referred 272 for delivery.
Now 28 weeks pregnant and in a stable condition, Ime finally allows herself to feel excited again about the future and about her most important dream coming true: to have a baby.
IOM's health activities in Libya are financed by the European Union.
Names have been changed to protect identities.
This story was written by Moayad Zaghdani of IOM’s Communication Team in Libya.