Christian refugees who fled Libya via a perilous route across the Mediterranean where thousands of others died seeking to escape religious persecution and poverty, say they were forced to deny Christ after ISIS militants threatened their lives.
"We are Christians but we had to deny our faith otherwise the gunmen would kill us, slit our throats and cut off our heads," a refugee known only as Haben, told the UK's Daily Mail. "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."
Haben, 19, and his younger brother Samuel, 14, escaped Libya by buying seats in a boat headed to Mineo, Greece. Mineo has become a temporary refuge for thousands of Christians and other members of religious minority groups trying to escape persecution at the hands of ISIS militants seeking to establish a caliphate throughout Africa.
Haben and Samuel's friend, Aman, said that they each paid $2,000 for the boat ride, even though there was no guarantee of freedom or protection. It was the first step, however, in a plan to find safety.
"The boat left Libya and we were in the sea for two days before we were rescued," said Aman. "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 good life."
The men however were among the lucky ones. Nearly 1,300 people have reportedly drowned in the past two weeks while trying to escape from Libya. And just last week about a dozen Christians fleeing from Africa were thrown overboard a migrant boat by Muslims as they tried to escape. Some 15 men have been arrested on suspicion of "multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate."
"About a day and a half into the crossing [of the Mediterranean], at a certain point some Muslims started to rail against us Christians just because we practiced a different religion. Many said that they should throw us into the sea. After the threats we found ourselves in open sea and not long after they started to throw some Christians into the sea," Yeboah, from Ghana, told police in Palmero, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
"They tried to throw me and other Christians still on board as well but they didn't manage to because we held onto the boat and clung onto each other. We resisted for an hour and only stopped when the rescue boat arrived," said Yeboah.
While Yeboah and other Christians were able to save themselves by forming a human chain, Aman and his friends had to hide their true identities from others on the boat.
"I had a wooden cross but I had to throw it away to keep my life," Aman said. "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."
Libya is currently in a state of turmoil, with ISIS trying to take over and the government fighting within itself for control of the country. Christians and other religious minorities are being killed at an increasingly high rate, both in the country and while trying to flee to safety.