29/04/2015 16:49 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 06:59 BST

Death on the Mediterranean: One Teenage Migrant's Story


I spent the last week on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily - both on the frontlines of migration to Europe from Libya.

There I met migrants from countries as diverse as Syria, Eritrea, Bangladesh and Sudan. All risked their lives travelling across the Mediterranean. Over 1,500 have died this year attempting the journey.

They each had their own powerful stories of the tragedies they had witnessed along the way. But the one that stood out most strongly for me was that of a 19-year-old Nigerian girl called Ruth.

(You can watch Ruth and two other teenage migrants tell the stories of their journeys to Europe across the Mediterranean here:)

She had left her hometown of Lagos where she had been an aspiring gospel singer and actress because her "family were suffering" - out of work, with barely enough food to survive.

She travelled across Nigeria, through Niger and into Libya on pick-up trucks. Along the desert roads people would often fall from the trucks, the path littered with dead bodies "they died like animals" Ruth told me. Many were also Nigerians. "I was very sad, because when they left home they said they are coming to make something and go back to Nigeria - but they couldn't make it... I feel for them and I feel for their parents."

The traffickers hadn't even told Ruth she would have to wait in Libya before travelling to Italy. But once they arrived in Libya they tried to force her into prostitution, "I was crazy, I told them they should take me back to Nigeria and face the suffering there... I can't just do it."

Ruth refused to work as a prostitute - but she owed the traffickers money. Her only route out came through a Ghanaian man she met - who said if she started a relationship with him, he would pay off all her debts. Pretty soon she became pregnant with his baby.

Life in Libya was hard. She worked in a restaurant in the town of Sabha, but was terrified to step outside where bombs were going off, and a local gang the "Asma Boys" terrorised migrants, threatening to rape and rob them.

Ruth finally made it onto a boat destined for Italy in mid-April. But before even an hour had passed, petrol started leaking out. It didn't catch fire but it burnt her skin and began suffocating her, "I was shouting this thing is hurting me, they said I should be patient it's just petrol... I couldn't even breathe, sometimes I would faint... Some died...They threw them into the water."

Ruth dropped in and out of consciousness - and so doesn't really remember being rescued by the Italian coast guard. But she was brought to the Sicilian town of Pozallo on the southern coast of the island and treated in hospital. I met her just a few days after she was released - whilst she was being looked after by the charity Mediterranean Hope.

I asked her if she regretted her journey in light of everything she had seen. She shook her head, but was unable to speak. When I asked her what she would say to anyone else considering the journey she was emphatic though, "I would advise the person not come at all. Even if I heard of my sister... I would tell them to arrest her there so she wouldn't move... The journey is not good... They should not even try it. If I had known these things would happen I wouldn't come."

Watch Ruth sing a gospel song: