The Lone Seven-Year-Olds Leaving Home and Country Behind
In refugee camps scattered around northern Africa there are children as young as seven who have left their homes in search of a way to emigrate to Italy and the EU.
Their stories sound very familiar to anyone who has followed the flight of Central American minors across Mexico and into the USA: they’re trying to escape poverty, crime, abuse, and paramilitary groups looking for boys for soldiers and girls for … recreation.
People smugglers take advantage of these young people, too, using them as the African version of “coyotes” to ship illegal immigrants on tiny boats across the Mediterranean.
Over the following days, the smugglers taught Rudi how to steer a wooden boat, how to operate its engine and how to navigate. He practised up and down the coast of Libya, and after a week, they said he was ready.
Nearly 200 migrants were loaded on to his boat, having paid up to $2,000 (£1,300) each for the crossing. Their lives were in the hands of a 15-year-old boy.
Rudi tells me that if he hadn’t agreed to sail the boat, he would have been stranded in Libya and could have been kidnapped or killed.
The arrangement suited the people smugglers well. They took nearly $500,000 (£325,000) from the migrants, and stayed in Libya, so they didn’t run the risk of being caught by the Italian authorities. All the risk was with Rudi, and his passengers, of course