I was in Libya for six months and in prison for four months. It was very cramped. They took all our things away from us. The first prison, the guards beat me and kicked me repeatedly, sometimes more than once a day, this lasted for at least three months. The second prison, I had done one month. Then I escaped. Many, many, many of the people I saw in prison would get a gun smashed against their head or legs. I had a gun held to my head when I demanded food for the work I did. You are forced to work long hours without pay and sometimes they feed you. Mostly they don’t.

I saw a man get beaten with a large pipe and they put an electric cords(shocks) on him. Near his eyes and feet.
The reason I fled Africa, its a difficult place to live, to make it there is not easy and no jobs are available.
Once I escaped the prison, a man helped me. I then paid a man and he managed to get me on the boat. Once in the water I thought I was going to die. It was so dark. No light. People were fighting to sit in the middle of the boat and not on the sides.

I want to reach Italy for many reasons. But once there I wanna bring my family from Gambia. My parents deserve a better life. I am sad. I haven’t spoken to them for months… I miss them…but the journey was worth the risk.

Libya is not a good country. Everyone disrespects black men and women. They treat you like dirt. You’re worthless to them and that’s why I risked my life to be here today. I didn’t see any other way out. Jean / 20 / Gambia

Photo and story: Kenny Karpov

The story of Ibrahim

My name is Ibrahim (24). I grew up in Côte d’Ivoire. I travel with my sister. We left together for a brighter future. We spent three & half months living in Libya. We couldn’t find any work. Just came to Libya, to pass to get into the boat. I stayed with 15-20 men in one room. It was awful conditions. Towards the end of every month the Libyan’s would come for our money or we would be beaten. They would threaten us, our families. They say things like we know where your family lives, we will kill them, unless you pay up. People were very scared by that. One month I was beaten with an iron bar. I only asked for food. Anything you ask for I was hit. My sister and I suffered very well there.

We left around midnight. A fair-colored skin man showed us the boat and pointed to everyone go this way. You will find land in few hours. I knew that wasn’t true. But what am I gonna do. My sister and I got into the boat and pushed off from the shore. It was pitch dark. A lot of people were screaming because none had seen the sea before. Myself included. When we saw your light, I couldn’t believe my eyes, we were safe. I felt freedom at that moment. I paid 1.1 million CFA, around €1600.

Foto& tekst: Kenny Karpov (Documentary Photographer for Stichting Bootvluchteling)

Story of Abu Bakar (14y)

I am Abu Bakar (14), I left Mali one month ago. My father wanted me to work on the land and my mother wanted me to continue my schooling, but later she decided I must take this journey. I don’t know how my mom arranged the trip or how she paid. I’m happy I am here. I am traveling with my older brother, I don’t know where he is on the boat, but he’s here. We spent one week in Libya, staying in a crowded flat with hundreds of people. We left Libya in the night, the men told us we would reach Italy in a couple hours. When I was in the boat, I only thought of reaching Italy. But when the water started rushing into the boat, I was very scared. I don’t know how to swim. I have never seen the water before. I kept thinking of my mother. It was hard for me to stay on my feet, a few women helped me sometimes…but I kept getting pushed around and stepped on, my hands, my feet were hurting very much. Others were fighting and shouting. The floors of the boat were coming apart, everyone was in a panic. It was so dark. Then we saw a light. I was so happy to be rescued. I wanna stay in Italy and continue my education. One day I want to be an engineer.
Text & photo: Kenny Karpov (Documentary Photographer for Stichting Bootvluchteling)

Story of a refugee

On the road for two years now

“A man from Eritrea is being hoisted onto the rescue boat. He possesses nothing other than the underwear on his body. He tells me his story. A story that surpasses my imagination.

For two years now, he has been on the road. He left his country in the hope of earning money to feed his family, which was left behind. In order to cross the Sahara, he bought a place in the trunk of a truck. The truck was so full, that people had to stand for the entire trip, for four days. Everyone was given 1.5 litres of water, no more. If someone else took your water, that was too bad. If you fell of the truck because of weakness or fatigue, that was too bad. The truck would not stop. The road was littered with bodies.
At a border crossing, all his possessions were taken from him. The money he had sown into his underwear was cut out, not so gently, causing a huge scar on his abdomen.
Libya was the worst. For years, migrants are being used as slaves there, for forced labour. The smugglers ‘own’ the people. Women are being raped all the time, and exchanged among the smugglers. A human life is no more than a means of power and money.

At some random moment, people are brought to the beach. This could be after a month, or after years. Nobody knows. People are being driven into sand holes and may have to wait for days on end without food or water, until the Libyan coast guard has left. Sometimes, groups come along to plunder the sand holes and kill everyone in there. Often these are child soldiers of 10 to 15 years old.
Survivors are herded onto boats. If you refuse, you are shot and replaced by someone else.

There is no turning back on this route. It’s this, or death.”

Text: Daniëlle van Winden
Photo: Kenny Karpov

Boat Refugee Foundation chooses to save these people from the water. Because we believe that every human life counts and no one deserves to die at sea. Please do not rush to judge about the right someone has to flee to Europe.

Will you help us, so that we can continue to save them?
Please donate on or make out your donation to NL97 RBRB 0918 9326 37 f.a.o. Stichting Bootvluchteling.

BREAKING rescue 3 October

A third major rescue operation saved many lives today. With mighty force on open seas, 40 kilometers from the Libyan coastal town of Zuwarah, the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation’s ‘Golfo Azurro’ rescued over 500 refugees from their sinking boats: pregnant women, children, men, and elderly from Syria, Ghana, the Gambia and Yemen, and with many still on the water at the moment. The ‘Golfo Azurru’ reached its maximum capacity, and medical and psychosocial crew aboard provides first aid. Unfortunately many have drowned, and at least seven died aboard the ship due to choking.

Gert-Jan Schaap, Dutch photographer and journalist with the Evangelical Broadcasting Corporation in The Netherlands: ‘It is a dramatic situation, probably the most bizarre day in my life’.

Dear friends: if you read this message, and you are touched too, like ourselves, please help us help these vulnerable boat refugees. Each life is precious.

Push the donate button, as your contribution saves lives.

Updates on this mission can be tracked via our facebook/stichtingbootvluchteling and twitter @bootvlucht.

May 7 2015 – May 7 2016

1 year Boat Refugee Foundation!

How could that be reason for celebration, you might say? And justifiably so. To celebrate that you are in existence for a year, as an aid organisation, somehow feels a bit off. But then again, we can celebrate the help we were able to give this past year:

800 volunteers working, letting their hearts speak and rolling up their sleeves on Malta, Lesbos, Kos, Leros, Samos and in Athens and Idomeni. We were able to help tens of thousands of refugees with their first shelter, clothing, a place to sleep, food, drink, relaxation, medical care and personal attention. A warm welcome in the midst of all despair!

40 employees ensure that all teams in Greece are able to do their work well. That the planning is correct, the volunteers are being screened and prepared, that the supplies are all in order, the boats are able to head out, the teams are complete, that everybody does what it expected of him or her.

This way, we all contribute to the well-oiled machine which is now the Boat Refugee Foundation. From a small group of volunteers to a professional organisation with a firm foundation. Of that we are super proud!
Our annual report for 2015 is nearly finished. It was a hell of a job, it being a first time. We hope to put it online next week.

Thank you for your support this past year! Will you continue to follow us? Now that we will go full steam in 2016 to offer a helping hand to refugees?

Dutch Remembrance Day – When freedom costs you your life

Tonight we commemorate the victims of war. For the employees and volunteers of Boat Refugee Foundation that were or are active in Greece, this Remembrance Day will have an extra layer. The war came really close. The consequences of worldwide conflicts, in particular in the Middle East and Afghanistan, can be seen daily in our work. We also remember the many boat refugees that lost their lives at sea this year, or on their way to Europe.

We got this movie from Arianne Kattenberg. Last April she was on a medical mission via Doctors of the World, one of the alliance partners of the Boat Refugee Foundation. Together with this organisation we work in Camp Moria.
Arianne Kattenberg: “This film is about the dreams of refugees and their right to speak their minds. Now Europe decides their fate. Unfortunately this violates a great number of human rights and the situation is horrible, also on Lesbos. I want to send this message to the world so the more times this gets shared, the better. Together we must stand firm for this.”