Africa Monitors’ Interview with four Eritrean migrants in Al-Huda Prison, Khartoum. Part-1

Note: The interview was conducted in January 2017 and Africa Monitors has learned that the Eritrean detainees were deported to Eritrea in February 2017. Note that the name of the security officer who cooperated to meet and interview the detainees has been changed for his protection.

It was at my best friend’s graduation ceremony that I had the pleasure of meeting officer Semir, elder brother to the graduate. He is a staff member of the Huda prison, where hundreds of Eritrean migrants being detained after they got captured crossing to and from Sudan. In our brief conversation about the prisoners. he informed me about language predicament the prison staff is having to communicate with these prisoners. Thus, I took the chance and directly told him that I could have my role to unkey the problem. I instantly believed such role would enable me to have a direct contact with the prisoners and to document a physical observation on their situation.

Officer Semir agreed and offered me the chance and made a next morning appointment. I reached Huda prison and met the officer around the gate. Huda prison is provincial prison where most prisoners are high to medium crime convicts. Eritrean migrants caught while entering to the country or crossing its northern boundaries to Libya and Egypt along with those arrested during continuous round-ups conducted in bigger cities like Khartoum , Kassala and Port Sudan are brought to the prison. Large population of women and children among them, the migrants are subjected to various ill-treatments.

After I arrived in the prison’s compound, officer Semir put me in a very small room that the officers use it to investigate the arrested migrants. He gave me a general information about these Eritrean girls, I was about to meet. Some of them got arrested while crossing to Libya or Egypt and some entering Sudan from their home country, Eritrea. Most of these prisoners are being held in that prison from there to 6 months without any trial. Their case is kept away and neither the UNHCR nor the families knew about them. Not After long the officer brought 4 Eritrean girls found around early and late 20s years of age. They have been kept in the prison for almost six months. Even their families don’t have any information on their whereabouts.

When I first met the girls, I had this disturbing feeling. The are to far from being looking like a normal human being. Their physical appearance has deteriorated that you wouldn’t be able to conclude they are girls at their 20s.

These Eritrean girls are:

  1. Hiywet Mengesha Tesfagabr, age 29
  2. Ziada Melake Habte , age 25
  3. Nigisti Huruy Zerai, age 21
  4. Saliem Nuguse Tesfay , age 21

To make them feel at ease, I introduced myself and let them know I just care to find and talk to them about the hardships they are getting through, only because I am an Eritrean like them. After knowing who I am and for what reason I am there, they conferred to give me some details on difficulties they and other imprisoned migrants are experiencing.

These four girls got arrested on their attempts to enter Khartoum from Ghirba and Hajeer their first arrival areas of eastern part of the Sudan, after they crossed Eritrean borders. Quality

The Interview with these Eritrean girls follows:

Would you be kind enough to tell your name and from which part of Eritrean you are?

I am Hiwet Mengesha Tesfagabir from Adi-Quala Sub-zone.

How did you manage crossing Eritrean borders and how come you ended up in Al-Huda prison ?

 I crossed the border to Ethiopia before heading to Sudan. From Ethiopia, we were trafficked to Sudan through an area called Hamdayit. We agreed to pay the traffickers nearly 100,000 Ethiopian Birr. From Hamdayit, boarded in big truck, we were taken to a place I could not be able to recall its name at this moment. From there the traffickers mini-grouped us to three medium sized trucks and headed to Hajeer area. In Hajeer we stayed for almost three weeks till all of us managed to pay the money the traffickers owed us. After that they re-boarded us to the three tracks and our journey to Khartoum began. Not more than 4 hours of ride from Hajeer, the track I was boarded in got confronted by Sudanese security forces. After they chained the driver and the middle-man , we were boarded to a military truck and brought to this prison.

What do you think could be the reason Sudanese security forces seized and imprisoned you.

Because we were trying to enter Sudan illegally, I believe!.

What followed when you were brought in to this prison.

We were told that we are illegal migrants and would have to stay in prison till our case is courted. But it has been more than six months since I got in here and no one seems to care and even dare to answer our obvious questions or requests. My Family don’t know if am alive or deceased. Nobody is allowed to see us let alone any chance for us to contact or call anybody.

Has the court review your case and gave any decision yet?

It would have been much better for us , if we could knew the time we will do in prison.

What about your health conditions? How are the medical provisions inside this prison.

It Is unbearable!! You could tell the filthiness of the prison right away. Majority of the women migrants imprisoned here are from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The meal is awful, almost no sanitary services provided. Anyone could tell that our health is more than deteriorating by looking into our physical appearances.

Could you tell your name and from which part of Eritrean you are?

My name is Ziyada Melake Habtom, and I am from a city in southern part of Eritrea called Segeneyti .

 

How did you manage crossing Eritrean borders and how come you ended up in Al-Huda prison ?

 I forcefully joined the  22nd round military training in Sawa Camp in order to take a secondary-school leaving examination for my college enrollment. But I failed. Thus, I joined the vocational training center called (National Center for Vocational Training -NCVT) usually called ‘hamamos’ . It is stationed inside that military camp. After my training, I started my infinite national service working with  state owned construction company called ‘ bdho’ in Tesseney , a city in border areas with Sudan. I had the chance to move freely even to areas much closer with Sudanese border. After I noticed that my workmate is about to cross the border , I did not hesitate to join him. We manage to cross the border to Kassala. I decided to stay in Kassala for I did have family members there while my colleague continue his journey to Khartoum. Only after few months I decided heading to Khartoum. But things didn’t go well for me . I was arrested by Sudanese securities when I was heading to Hajeer from Ghirbaa.

Why did Sudanese security forces arrested you?

When we reached Ghirbaa , we had to cross a small river in order in reach the tracks across the river and start our journey to Hajeer. But , when we boarded the tracks and travel for few ours to armored military vehicles of Sudanese security forces blocked us. At first we thought they are Rashaida’s vehicles and went thrilled. Even the driver attempted not to stop the truck. But when Sudanese securities start firing bullets to the sky, he instantly stopped his truck. Even though, for what reason I still didn’t understand,  the securities decide to let the driver free , we were boarded to these military vehicles and taken in to this prison.

What followed when you were brought in to this prison?

For about one month, nobody talked or contacted us. Only after one month they began to interrogate us. For language matters no prisoner knew what is being asked nor any integrator understand the prisoner’s response. Two months Later from the start of the interrogation, the prison brought an influent translator and told us with poor Tigrigna that our case will be reviewed by a court and we will be notified of the decision. But till this very moment we heard nothing from anybody. Our condition is getting awful from time to time. No relative or friend in Sudan can reach us and our parents don’t know whether we are alive.

To be continue……..

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