Translated from Tigrigna. Interview is conducted by Africa Monitors women monitor in Kamapla, Uganda.
Her pen name is Abrehet. This name is given by the writer to protect her from harm and for her safety. Abrehet recites her story.
THE JOURNEY FROM ERITREA TO ETHIOPIA
I was born and raised near Senafe in Eritrea. I was only 17 when I first migrated in 2010. I was alone when I started my journey and half way I met a smuggler, two men and a girl. And the smuggler asked me, “Where are you heading, little girl?” I was terrified and didn’t reply. And he asked me again. And in fear I told him, “To Tigray.” He continued with his questions, “Who brought you here?” “I came alone,” I answered. “Join us, then. We have to be careful and move fast. There are Eritrean patrols here,” he said. We all agreed and continued our journey. We followed his footsteps in fear through ridges and valleys. Along the way the smuggler would order us to lie down, they would and I did everything the others did. The other girl was a city-girl and I noted she was very tired. She was worried that the smuggler would abandon us. As I was scared, my eyes hurt from trying hard to look at his every movement lest I miss his step and lose track of him. And I was worried for her for she kept crying. Then, the smuggler said, “We are very close [to the border].” He tried to encourage us. After resting for a brief moment, we continued our journey. After threading for a long time, he said, “We have reached Mereb River. There are a lot of patrols here. We will drink water and cross quickly.” After drinking some water, we continued walking. We were terrified, hungry and thirsty.
The journey was too much for me, I was tired, afraid and my mouth was dry [dehydrated]. After about thirty minutes, the smuggler was very angry and accused us of slowing down the group. And he said that they will be caught because of us. He opened his bag and took out a water-sugar solution and gave us. I thanked God for this and felt stronger. After we crossed the river, he told us, “From now on you will travel alone and it is a long way. Don’t worry the Ethiopian border patrols will find you, be brave.” He left us alone there. Like he said we walked alone long. And as he said, the Ethiopian border patrols found us and took us to their station. They gave us water and food.
From their station, they sent us to Mai Ayni Refugee Camp. After staying at the camp for six months, I heard a rumor of a safe route to Israel through Sudan and Egypt. I started asking people around and met someone after three days. When I planned about going, I was very distressed. But I decided to go anyway and I asked him what I needed for the journey. He told me I will need clothes and some food. And I went to my quarters. He came back after a week and told me that the journey was scheduled the next day. “What time?” I asked him. “Around 6 pm,” he said. And he left.
We began our journey at the scheduled time even though there was a lot of security control at the camp. We managed to slip out through security controls. Five of us headed to Addis Ababa. After reaching Addis Ababa, we continued to Humera. And we reached Humera. In Humera, they [the smugglers] locked us in a small hut and warned us about patrols that roamed the area.
After sometime a man by the name Gebrezgabhier, aged around 35, forced us to pay some money without any explanation. And we did. A few moments later, a woman came carrying food and gave us food accompanied with a smile. This made me feel good and hopeful. And she advised me to wrap my money in a plastic bag and hid it in my panties which I later understood was part of a skim to rip me of my money. And she told me to leave my clothes with her and she will send them later to me. I agreed and did as she told me.
We started travelling by the riverside of Tekeze. The sound of the river was very loud and scary. How will I cross it? It was the question that crossed my mind. The smugglers have tied twenty plastic jars to hold on to and float across the river. One of the smugglers reminded us to never to let go. And right before we went into the river they ordered us to pay. We told them we didn’t have any money. One of the smugglers looked straight at me and told me to give him the money. I told him I didn’t have any money. He told me I have some hid in my panties. And I remembered the woman who brought us food at the hut, she was their associate. I was afraid they might leave me there. And the other migrants said that I should give them if I had any money or else they could leave me there. So I gave him all the money I had. The other migrants were very nice to me and promised to help me if I needed any money. Though I was angry and afraid, this gave me strength and hope. The two smugglers were at the two ends of the floating jars and the migrants put me in the middle to keep me safe and from drowning.
All of a sudden, a dead body and a dead donkey came floating towards us. This added to everything I went through and the sound of the river’s fast movement, I cried aloud in horror. I almost drowned and would have been lost like all the others who drowned in there. But God’s hands saved me and I didn’t let go of the rope and the plastic jars. I could easily have been like the dead person and the dead donkey. I was unconscious when we crossed the river. They performed Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and resuscitated me. After an hour, we continued our journey and reached the Sudanese village of Hamdait.
JOURNEY FROM SUDAN TO ISRAEL
The Sudanese border patrols caught us and took our mobile phones. Everywhere we go problems present themselves in different forms. Then we started looking for vehicles to take us to Kassala. We met smugglers and agreed after they told us what it will cost us. We drove through endless desert and for what seems an endless time and reached Kassala. In Kassala, they locked us in a room, threatened us and told us to pay 1400 USD if they are to take us to Egypt. They forced us to call our families and relatives. And I called my cousin in Israel. My cousin kept asking me, “When did you come to Kassala? Who said you can go [out of the country]?” He was very angry at me but he had no other choice except to wire the money.
Everyone was remitted the amount asked above. Mohammed Adem is the name of the man who received the money. After he received some of the migrants’ amount he changed his cruel face and with a smile told us that we would begin our journey soon. And added,
“Those of you who haven’t paid, you will stay. Don’t worry, we Sudanese are your brothers. If it were the Rashaida people, they would have sold you, take your women for their wives and made you pay a lot. However, we will sell you to the Rashaida people unless you pay quickly.”
I thought to myself, are we animals to be exchanged or sold? Through time the number of migrants in that room reached 17. And we were all horrified, worried and praying in our own ways. And I hated myself for everything. However, after two weeks, on July 20, 2010, we began the route to Egypt. The pick-up cars we were loaded in accelerated at 180 km per hour and every one of us got sick. We were vomiting and hated ourselves for everything. When we rested, we tried to drink water but kerosene was put into the water. We couldn’t drink it. We didn’t have any other choice, we meant to quench our thirst but drunk so little. I later learned that one liter of kerosene was mixed with twenty liters of water. I was angry and mad at myself for that first day I left my home. Migration is horrible. I must have been cursed by my parents, were some of the things that were coming into my mind throughout the journey.
After we drove like this for ten days we reached a border town in Egypt, Shelaton. We all looked like walking dead people and one wouldn’t wonder why. It is a life and death road. There are gangs of thieves in this route. After three days, thank God, without any incident we took a train and reached Cairo. I was very tired and needed to lie down and rest for long. For the first time in weeks I felt safe and at ease.
We stayed in Cairo for a week and in that time we were looking for the Bedouin people. I was not a registered refugee and I didn’t go out for once. After a week we found a Bedouin. Our transport was a land cruiser SUV with tinted glasses. The smugglers were Egyptian Bedouin and told us our movement would be with caution. They told us we would cross the Suez Canal in a boat. I was afraid but I had no choice. There was no other way.
I boarded the boat with fear and we started off. I was frightened by the water. Anyways, we reached land after a long time. Something unexpected happened once we reached land, four gunmen were waiting there. And they kidnapped us from the Bedouin smugglers. The smugglers tried to resist but to no avail because the Bedouin had no guns. The gunmen directly took us to Sinai. Our situation worsened, we were horrified and my day turned into a nightmare. They held us hostage and commanded us to call our families. They told us to pay a ransom of 10,000 USD.
After few days they started torturing us and was a time of crying and wailing. There were other things I have left out that happened to me. I was very disturbed and disturbed my families and relatives as well. It was an experience that scared my soul. My family and relatives paid the ransom. And my cousin from Israel paid for my release also. What I have suffered in Sinai, you wouldn’t even do to it your enemies. There are a lot of impediments in life but there is nothing that matches to what I was subjected to and I cannot get forget the trauma even now. After the ransom was paid, we left Sinai and our kidnappers abandoned us at the Israeli border. Then, the Israeli troops caught us.
LIFE IN ISRAEL
After we were caught by the Israeli troops, we were taken to Tel Aviv and we were registered at the office of UNHCR. We were given a three-month residence permit and left us to visit our respective families. I was sick and bedridden for three months. I was completely broken in Sinai. I was hospitalized, taking medication and begun to show improvement in my health. In Israel, it wasn’t as I expected it to be. We had to queue up from 3 am in the morning to 5 pm in the afternoon just to renew the three-month residence permit. It was very sad.
To the question what sort of things happened to you in Israel, she replies:
It is a lot. Some of these have scared me deep I can’t rid of the trauma easily. One time I was ill and went to a doctor who owns a large clinic and well respected among the Eritrean refugees. He told me that I had infection in my colons. He prescribed seven days of injection for me. But I didn’t get well or show any change. My legs were weak all the time. So I went to another doctor and he told me I was not ill and just my body is dehydrated. He told me to drink a lot of water. I took his advice, drank a lot of water every day and ate my daily meals regularly. And I started to show improvement.
After six months I saw my first doctor on TV, under arrest by the Israeli police. I didn’t know what he was accused of because the news was in Hebrew. And I asked one Eritrean who speaks Hebrew as I was curious to know why he was under arrest. He told me, “He is cruel. He injected 17 Eritrean women with a medicine that made them sterile.” I was taken back by his reply and became horrified. I did fertility test and the doctor told me I cannot bear a child. I lost all hope. I got married in Israel but I didn’t bear a child. If God wills it I might someday.
JOURNEY FROM ISRAEL TO RWANDA
I was given laissez passer, three thousand five hundred US dollars [by Israeli authorities] and boarded a plane to Rwanda. They [Rwandese authorities] seized the laissez passer at the airport of Kigali and drove us in a land cruiser to a hotel. The accommodation at the hotel was nice and they gave us good food. We stayed at the hotel for three days. Then they drove us for ten hours in a small car to Uganda. It was arranged by the Rwandan government and we didn’t have any saying in it.
In Kampala, Uganda, we were taken into a hotel. They billed us for the trip and the hotel we were staying at. After this, the people who drove us said, “Our job is finished here. You can live as you like. You can either stay in this hotel or rent a private residence. But it is better to rent a house of your own. And to live here you need to seek for asylum and register [with the refugee authority].”
Near the hotel, there was a police station and there was a desk for asylum seekers at the police station where we registered. And they [the police] directed us to the Office of Prime Minister (OPM) which examines cases of asylum seekers. After two weeks the OPM gave us a document that refers us as asylum seekers which is renewed every three months. I now live renewing this document every three months and I have not been granted asylum up to now. I have rented a room and I am trying hard to lead a normal life, now.