Twenty-five-year-old Naomi Iwelu is now settled, living in a room in the centre of Catania, Sicily. Here she recounts the robberies, betrayals and rape she experienced on her journey from Benin, Nigeria.
It was her mother’s death, four years after her father’s, that prompted Naomi to quit school and leave Benin in 2018. As the eldest of six children, all now orphans, continuing her education beyond secondary school was an impossibility.
“I got in touch with a friend who was living in Libya at the time,” she says. “We had attended the same school, but we had lost contact with each other. I found her contact on Facebook. She was the one who convinced me to leave Nigeria and said that she would help me to do so.”
Naomi was told the trip would cost about 4,000 euros ($4,370), far more than she could raise.
She set out as part of a group organised by the contact her friend had provided. Today, she struggles to remember the number of people, only that there were “a lot”.
Prompted for details, Naomi becomes silent, speaking volumes.
Eventually, she arrived in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, where she stayed for six months, finding cleaning work in a local man’s house.
One day on returning home, Naomi found two local men waiting for her.
“The journey was extremely hard. There were many of us in a rubber dinghy,” she says, describing how she had been sick throughout the crossing.
After reaching Lampedusa, the Italian doctors who examined her told her she was pregnant.
Naomi was eventually able to secure an abortion, and now, having graduated from an Italian school, she works in a restaurant a few steps away from Via Etnea, Catania’s central street.