Christian migrants from Africa have spoken of making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to escape beheading from Islamic State fanatics in Libya.
A group of Eritrean refugees told how they were forced to deny their faith or face death at the hands of Islamist gunmen who patrol the towns and beaches of the North African state searching for ‘infidels’.
Haben, 19, told MailOnline: ‘We are Christians but we had to deny our faith otherwise the gunmen would kill us, slit our throats and cut off our heads.’
He and his brother Samuel, 14, arrived in Sicily a week ago, just days before around 900 people died when their boat capsized during the same dangerous journey from Libya – one of the worst maritime disasters since the end of World War Two.
Haben said his friends had been shot dead by armed ISIS terrorists who patrol the anarchy-ridden towns and beaches of the country.
He told MailOnline: ‘I have friends – from Eritrea and Egypt – who were killed because they are Christians.
‘The men come around with Kalashnikov and they ask you what is your faith.
‘If you are Christian they take you away and kill you. They cut off your head or shoot you. This is what they have done to hundreds of Christians.’
Tens of thousands of migrants are fleeing Libya as extremists take advantage of the political chaos engulfing the country.
With ISIS having established strongholds in the towns on Sirte and Derna, and with smaller bases elsewhere in the country, fear of capture and execution at the hands of the radical Islamists is driving the desperate migrants to leave Libya as quickly as they can, dangerously overloading vessels.
Only yesterday, Ethiopian officials revealed that the 30 Christians filmed being beheaded and shot by Islamic State militants in Libya were likely to have been desperate migrants trying to reach Europe and even Britain.
The 29-minute video released on Sunday is titled ‘Until It Came To Them – Clear Evidence’, and shows dozens of militants butchering two separate groups of men in the north African country.
Haben and his brother Samuel, 14, risked their lives in hope of a brighter future in Europe.
The teenagers were able to keep their faith hidden, concealing the polished wooden crosses they wear around their necks underneath thick clothes.
But other Eritrean Christians told MailOnline they were forced to deny their faith to stay alive.
Aman, 18, said: ‘I had a wooden cross but I had to throw it away to keep my life. The gunmen came around looking for Christians. They said they would kill the infidels, so I cut my cross off my neck and threw it away.
‘I speak Arabic so I pretended that I was not a Christian, that I pray to their God, and they believed me.’
Aman, together with Haben, Samuel and another Eritrean Tesfalem, who are all followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church – the main Christian Church in Egypt which has members worldwide – set off on the perilous sea journey across the Mediterranean last week.
Thirty Ethiopian Christians appear to have been beheaded and shot by ISIS in a sickening new propaganda video. Above, at least 16 men are marched down a beach in Libya by militants before they are killed
Around 1,300 people are believed to have drowned in the past two weeks while trying to reach Europe in boats launched from Libya.
Aman, speaking from Mineo which is a temporary home to around 4,000 people, said: ‘We paid $2000 each for a place in a boat. The boat left Libya and we were in the sea for two days before we were rescued.
‘We were taken to the port and then to a camp with other refugees.
‘But we won’t stay here. We are going to Rome and then other countries. We want to work and make a hood life.’
Haben said he fled his homeland after he was conscripted into the army – an ordeal that can last up to 30 years in this authoritarian state in the Horn of Africa.
The country has been likened to African version of North Korea, led by President Isaias Afewerki.
Most of the adults living in Eritrea face conscription or compulsory labour.
The other migrants were sent by their families in the hope they could lead a better life – an education and good jobs – than is impossible in the isolated nation state.
As well as the spread of ISIS in the country, Libya is currently in a state of civil war – with two rival governments controlling and operating in different areas of the country.
People smugglers are taking advantage of the subsequent chaos and confusion tearing the country apart to ply their trade with little to no threat of being caught.
In 2015 there have already been 30 times more migrants dying off the coast of Libya than in 2014 – which was itself a record-breaking year.
Last week, Christian refugees revealed how they linked arms to form a ‘human chain’ in a desperate bid to stop Muslim migrants throwing them into the sea after an argument about religion.
A group of 15 men were arrested on suspicion of ‘multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate’ earlier this month after 12 Christians from Ghana and Nigeria were allegedly thrown off a rubber dinghy into the Mediterranean Sea.
Survivors from the boat, made up of 105 migrants from diverse religions and ethnicities, have now claimed the men tried to throw other Christians off the side of the vessel after an argument about religion – but were prevented because they huddled together to create a human chain.
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