Eighteen-year-old Zelda* fled Nigeria, she had high hopes of finding a way for her family to survive. In her homeland, she owned a hair salon, and she enjoyed spending the past four years working with hair. But with all the turmoil in Nigeria, Zelda had no other choice but to leave her beloved salon behind as she started a journey to Europe.
One particular day in 2016, Zelda’s close friend provided money for her to get to Europe. This friend had also set up a job for Zelda. The young miss thought that feeling Nigeria made sense as she could improve the future she held. As she planned out her steps toward getting there, she became excited, dreaming about her new life in Europe.
Zelda’s family worried about her and were less than thrilled with the news. They worried that something may happen to her while being transported to Europe. However, Zelda was persistent, wanting the life she dreamed of.
Zelda recalls she traveled for more than a month on the road, facing various difficulties. The blistering sun beat down on her as she sat in the back of the truck. Zelda stated she was terrified every time she glanced over at her companion who had traveled with her from Nigeria, as well as the rest of the girls who were with them. Zelda saw pure fatigue on their faces. To forget about any worries each of them had, they prayed out loud. However, this infuriated the trafficker and he attempted to silence them. She states those were the worst times of her life.
Zelda first saw Sebha, then a week later Tripoli. Soon after, they stumbled upon the boat that would give the young girl her first try to go across the sea. Having heard success stories from people who had made it to Europe, Zelda was positive everything would go as planned, as she had heard various success stories from many individuals who had also journeyed to Europe. However, just hours into the boat ride, the boat failed, and Zelda found herself stuck at sea. Luckily, the Libyan search and rescue guards rescued them, returning them to shore. Zelda stated at that time, she was just happy to be still alive.
Per the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) most recent Maritime Update, more than 9,000 immigrants have been taken back to Libya between January and June 2022. (1) Out of those 9,000, 656 have been women and 342 were children. Once they were back to shore, they were all supported by IOM’s direct assistance and mental health and psychosocial support team.
After Zelda’s first try to cross the seas to Europe, she was taken back to Tripoli and confined for a couple of months until she was employed by a Libyan household as a housekeeper. The entire purpose of her getting a job was to work to save an adequate sum of money to attempt to cross the sea again.
Just one year later, Zelda encountered a Ghanaian gentleman to whom she was united in marriage. Unfortunately, the couple fought to make ends meet when he lost his job due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Zelda eventually was able to set enough money back to cross the waters once again. As this was always her plan to get to Europe, she was able to convince her husband to go with her.
Fast forward three years and Zelda found out that she was expecting her first child. The couple was delighted to be expecting, but unfortunately, at 28 weeks, Zelda lost the child.
Zelda recalls she felt forlorn and cried herself to sleep every evening. Her husband who convinced me to try again for a baby, was the only individual she felt she could count on.
Zelda’s vision of getting pregnant again came true later that year, while her pipe dream of making it to Europe was gradually coming together too.
Her husband was hesitant to let her cross the waters again, as he did not want any risk of losing the baby again. Nevertheless, his wife had made up her mind. She was unrelenting, so in March 2021, the couple tried to cross the sea again, praying to God to save them.
After just two days, as she and her husband were getting eager to reach Italy’s coast, the Libyan coast guards captured them, taking them back to Tripoli. Once there, she met with IOM staff who aid immigrants returned to shore but declined to tell them about being pregnant. A couple of weeks later, Zelda lost the baby.
In 2022, Zelda fell pregnant for a third time. During this pregnancy, her Nigerian friends talked her into seeking IOM’s assistance. She did just that, and the IOM’s staff referred her to an IOM gynecologist. These gynecologists will help to prep the expecting mothers for delivery and provide essential medications. They are also referred to a hospital so they can deliver the baby safely. More than 7,000 immigrants alone were helped in 2021.
Now, 28 weeks pregnant and in a stable condition, Zelda permits herself to be thrilled again about what the future holds for her, as well as her most important thing to her, which is to have a baby. And what about crossing the waters once again? Zelda says has not decided, but time will tell.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity