A group of immigrants who survived the latest tragic sinking in the Mediterranean claim they made the voyage after being denied visas by the Swedish embassy in Tripoli.
“They told us they could not give us visas, so indirectly we were being told that to be granted asylum we had to leave Libya illegally and make our way to Sweden,” Syrian national Imad Hasan told Times of Malta yesterday. “It is this illogical thinking that almost forces people like me to embark on such a voyage.”
The 47-year-old university graduate considers himself “very lucky” his whole family was alive and that he, his wife Amal and their three children, Belal, 12, Bara, 10, and Ula, six, all survived the voyage, in which dozens of migrants perished.
“We were on the top floor of the two-tier wooden fishing vessel. God chose that place for us.
“I saw whole families going into the bottom part, but I never saw them again,” he said, strengthening suspicions that the number of people who actually died was closer to 200.
Mr Hasan said that the boat started to get into trouble when Libyan militiamen shot at it “for hours”.
“It was taking in water fast. The pump was working but after two hours it stopped and the boat began rocking from side to side.
“Then, all of a sudden and without giving us any chance, the boat capsized and we all ended up in the water.”
He said he swam for around 30 minutes, desperately looking for his wife and three children. He then spotted his son, who took him to where the rest of his family were.
“We all had life vests, but not everyone had one. I saw many bodies floating.
“It was like a horror film. We swam for about two hours before we eventually got on to the Maltese rescue boat,” he said.
His children do not want to talk about their near-death experience.
Mr Hasan said he had not yet applied for asylum “because we do not know what our future is going to be”.
“We are getting very little information. We would like European countries to help Malta by facilitating visa documents so we could continue our voyage to our original destination, which in my case is Sweden, although I have a brother living in Denmark.”
Asked what made him leave Libya where he was living for three months after fleeing the war in Syria, Mr Hasan said: “The living conditions are desperate. We just couldn’t continue living there. There is no future for my children.
“The fact that there were at least 10 doctors on the same boat as mine says a lot.
“There was one doctor I knew who used to earn $13,000 a month but life became so difficult, especially for our children, who are still young.”
Mr Hasan and his family are now living at the Ħal Far open centre. Although thankful, he believes that the container they are living in is “not suitable” for families.
He would like to see more activities for children, who spend entire days on the camp “doing nothing”. There is not even one television set, he said.