Naomi Ewell was able to reach Italy, but was unable to endure unimaginable trauma and violence.
Naomi Ewel, 25, is now settled and lives in a room in the center of Catania, Sicily. Here she talks about the robbery, betrayal and rape she experienced during her journey from Benin, Nigeria.
Naomi’s mother died four years after her father’s death, prompting her to quit school and leave Benin in 2018. As the eldest of her six children, all orphaned, it was impossible for her to continue her education beyond secondary school.
“We couldn’t afford to continue our studies, so we started working in bars, restaurants, cleaning, etc.,” Naomi told Al Jazeera.
However, the family’s living conditions deteriorated. The option of leaving Nigeria and starting a new life in Europe is being considered more than ever.
“I contacted a friend who was living in Libya at the time,” she says. “We went to the same school but had lost touch. I found her contact information on Facebook. She convinced me to leave Nigeria and helped me do so. I said I would give it to you.”
Naomi was told the trip would cost around 4,000 euros (about $4,370), far more than she could raise.
“I asked my then-boyfriend to come up with money to help my sister. I lied to him,” she says. “Then I sent money to a friend in Libya. And so the journey began.”
She started out as part of a group organized by contacts provided by friends. Today, she has a hard time remembering the number of people, but all she remembers is that there were “a lot.”
“We spent two weeks in the desert,” she recalls. “We had very little water and a lot of things happened.”
When asked for details, Naomi pauses and then speaks loudly.
She eventually arrived in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where she stayed for six months, finding work as a cleaner at a local man’s house.
One day when Naomi returned home, two local men were waiting for her.
“They had knives. They threatened me and demanded money. But I didn’t speak Arabic well. I didn’t understand. Then they gave me clothes. I ordered them to take their clothes off. That’s how they both raped me,” she says.
Despite this experience, Naomi had no choice but to continue working and eventually raised the funds to go to Europe.
“The journey was very difficult. Many of us were in rubber boats,” she said, adding that she felt unwell during the entire crossing.
After arriving in Lampedusa, Italian doctors examined her and told her she was pregnant.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant. It was very painful for me,” she says. “I wanted to study, but in order to do that I needed to get a qualification.” [an] abortion. I didn’t want a baby. ”
Naomi eventually had a successful abortion, and now, after graduating from school in Italy, she works in a restaurant a few steps from Via Etnea in central Catania.
She maintains regular contact with her family in Nigeria and sends them all the money she can. “I miss them so much, but I don’t want them to go through the same journey that I did and go through what I went through,” she says.
This article is the fifth in a five-part series about refugees from different countries and from different backgrounds, bound by common fears and hopes as we enter 2024. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.