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Inside a migrant detainment center in Libya

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year after making the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News goes to a detention center in Libya, where refugees who were trying to flee North Africa by boat, or were arrested for working illegally, have been stopped and imprisoned.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The United Nations Refugee Agency reported today that more than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year after making the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean.

    They are in many ways the lucky ones, as more than 1,700 have perished during the journey this year.

    Tonight, we take a look at some of the others in the migrant crisis, those who are alive, but stopped and imprisoned as they try to flee North Africa.

    Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News has our report.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    There's a world beyond the bars, Libya, where they lost their freedom; Europe, the land they failed to reach; Africa and the families they left behind.

  • MAN:

    I want to call my parents.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Now their world is inside the Misrata detention center, 560 men, most of them Africans, some intercepted crossing the Mediterranean, others arrested for working illegally in Libya.

    YONATHAN YOHANNES, Detained migrant from Eritrea: I can't find freedom in Africa. The only chance to have it was to cross the Sahara and to reach Europe.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Do you regret getting on that boat?

    WINSTON OKEKE, Detained migrant from Nigeria: Coming from the circumstance I found myself at the moment, that was the best decision to take. I tried. I congratulate myself as a man. I tried.

    BOUBAKAR SANNEH, Detained migrant from Gambia: But I feel, no matter how hard it is, I believe Europe is better than Africa. Yes, when Europe is hard, Africa would be in hell. It would be — it's like a fire.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    The Eritreans are the largest group. If they stayed at home, they would have been forced into indefinite military service.

  • YONATHAN YOHANNES:

    I have a brother. He's a soldier for 20 years.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Twenty years?

  • YONATHAN YOHANNES:

    Yes, since '94. I don't want to be a soldier for 20 years. So I need a better life.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    His friends tried to get out via Egypt's Sinai to Israel. He was chained and tortured by people smugglers. They broke not only his hand, but also his mind.

    You have got a small bag there.

  • YONATHAN YOHANNES:

    Yes, I have a small bag here.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Yonathan showed me the things he carried on his odyssey through five African countries. "You can touch my Bible," he said, "but don't let the guards see it."

    For many, the nightmare was at sea. The Libyan coast guard has released video of boats they recently intercepted on the way to Sicily. Several in the detention center will never forget May the 3rd, the night their dreams died.

  • BOUBAKAR SANNEH:

    Before they intercept us, we all got the dream that's (INAUDIBLE) tries to be a better person. It was so unfortunate when we see the Libyan people, and we all know that, you know, we are going back to hell. It's not easy to be a prisoner. Nobody prayed for that.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Nobody prays to end up at the Misrata morgue either, unclaimed, unnamed bodies who washed up on the Libyan shore when their boats capsized, anonymous men, women and children who took the risk. For what?

    Boubakar told me he has diplomas in information technology and marketing. Surely, he could find a job in Gambia.

    It's your responsibility to stay and build your own country, not to come to Europe.

  • BOUBAKAR SANNEH:

    Yes, yes, that's true. We want to go to Europe to have something. So, if you are strong financially, you can come back to Africa and invest something in Africa.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Playing cards cut from juice cartons that wiles away the hours. If they try to escape, they say, the guards beat them.

    There's plenty of time to think about their lives. As the flow of migrants increases, Europe's reserves of sympathy have dwindled. Women and children may get a little, but African men get none; 37 new graves have been dug in the dunes, migrants who perished at sea. The Misrata cemetery looks over the Mediterranean towards Europe, but some scorn death and dream of traveling even further.

  • YONATHAN YOHANNES:

    Maybe to America, until I get what I need.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Which is?

  • YONATHAN YOHANNES:

    Freedom.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Would you try again?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • WINSTON OKEKE:

    You know, if I still find what chased me out of my house, I will try again.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    A diet of pasta and chicken. There's never quite enough to eat. Caught between dreams and despair, they think of their lives stretching ahead, escape, deportation, indefinite imprisonment; 100 men share each bathroom.

    They have the same fears and ambitions as young men anywhere. They tell themselves no condition is permanent, but an accident of geography rules their fate.

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