Keita, a Guinean who escaped slavery in Libya, finds peace in Spain
Keita, who arrived in Spain in June 2018 aboard the Aquarius NGO ship, poses for a photograph outside the Red Cross center in Valencia, Spain, June 10, 2019. EFE/Kai Försterling
Keita, who arrived in Spain in June 2018 aboard the Aquarius NGO ship, gives an interview at the Red Cross center in Valencia, Spain, June 10, 2019. EFE/Kai Försterling
By Carlos Bazarra
Valencia (Spain), Jun 10 (efe-epa).- Keita was the youngest commander of an elite military anti-drug unit in Guinea and a happy family man until just two years ago when a whirlwind of corruption and violence turned his life on its head and forced him on a treacherous journey toward Europe.
It would lead him across the Sahara and into slavery in Libya, from which he would eventually escape, and ended with his rescue by the NGO vessel Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea just off the Libyan coast.
Then, on June 17, 2018, Keita and 628 others were brought to Valencia in eastern Spain after the Spanish government decided to open its doors to the boat, which had been rejected by Italy and Malta in a stand-off that grabbed international headlines.
"My arrival here has made me turn the page to a new life. Here I have found peace, and since I’ve been here everyone takes care of me and is good to me," the 30-year-old Guinean told Efe in an interview facilitated by the Red Cross.
Despite the mid-June temperatures in the city, Keita, who preferred not to give his surname for security reasons, wore gloves, which offer some protection for the scar on his hand, the result of a burn that became infected during his time working in a mine in northern Libya.
In spite of the injury, Keita's day job in the Spanish city as a road worker involves him using a pneumatic drill.
The Guinean refugee said he never hides the fact that he arrived on the Aquarius from his workmates.
"At work, there is a good atmosphere, I have a good relationship with everyone, everyone is nice and I don’t have any problems," he said.
But the tumultuous and at times life-threatening journey from his native Guinea, in West Africa, has left mental scars, too.
"I only trust my mother and my children," he said of his family, who remain in Guinea. "My dream is to bring them here."
He is able to stay in touch with his family back home via WhatsApp.
So, how does a former elite soldier from Guinea end up drilling the streets of Valencia?
Keita tells the story tentatively in his native French. It is a tale that leaves him visibly emotional.
It began in Guinea.
There, as a young elite soldier tackling the illicit drug trade, he resisted a corrupt deal offered to him by a powerful drug trafficker.
The trafficker in question was later jailed but left custody just three months later and wanted to make Keita pay for his refusal with his life.
As a direct result, assailants murdered Keita's friend but made clear the bullets that took his life had, in fact, been destined for Keita.
With a price on his head and after realizing that his seniors were also embroiled in the corrupt plot, Keita fled.
First, he made it to the Ivory Coast, then Burkina Faso, up through Niger and finally into the Libyan desert where he was sold into slavery and forced to work in a quarry that was tightly monitored by the slavers.
"They sold us, and when you are sold, those who buy you will make you work," he said, adding that refusal to work was punishable by death.
He and a friend managed to escape the quarry six months later by hiding in waste containers.
The pair made it to Zuwarah in northwest Libya, which at the time had been largely spared from the hostilities that have engulfed other regions of the North African nation.
There, he worked once again in a quarry but this time for a salary, which he saved to pay for his trip across the Mediterranean in a precarious vessel, following in the footsteps of tens of thousands of migrants before him, many thousands of whom have died in their attempt.
But he saw Europe as his only option.
Some of his colleagues refused to embark on the same journey, warning him it was "fatal."
Keita was able to confirm this when the unseaworthy and overloaded boat he boarded started to take on water when it was already too far from shore to turn back.
"The journey was very hard. It is hard to live when you have seen the face of death and there is no hope of being saved," he said, describing the claustrophobic conditions on the vessel.EFE-EPA