URBAN REFUGEES: FROM DEPARTURE TO TRANSIT COUNTRIES

It is not hard to see how difficult it has become for all Eritreans to live in their country from the facts that thousands cross to neighboring countries by way of smugglers or without to find a better life and stability. They use smugglers to escape and cross. But not all are smuggled out. There are those who cross by themselves. They are fewer in number and with a lesser chance of making it without being caught. From the few who cross on their own even lesser are bound to get where they intend to go. They choose this because most of them live in the border towns with no means of paying for smugglers or guides.

Few Eritreans manage to cross on their own without the help of any guide or smugglers who charge these migrants thousands of dollars for few hours or days walk. Unlike those who cross with a smuggler they face more troubles and their journey is perilous. Lack of knowledge of what sort of preparation they have to make, unavailable waterholes and inadequate food supplies are some of the problems they encounter.  During their journey, there is always the possibility that they could be caught by the border patrols. And with this at the back of their mind, these migrants travel tens of kilometers for days to reach the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Sudan.

Most migrants cross during the night while they stay in hideaway or caves during the day. When they lose their sense of direction, they come out of their hiding place during the day and get spotted by herdsmen who usually are recruited by the authorities or by soldiers on the lookout for illegal migrants. The only choice they have during these circumstances is to run but usually they freeze when the first shot is fired. These shots are fired to shoot them down, not as precaution, and the migrants are well-aware of this. They know they meant to shoot them down and have to choices, either run and be shot at or freeze and lay on the ground to be taken prisoner after a rain of beatings and humiliations.

If they manage to escape these impediments across their way or cross without an incident, they will be taken to Endabaguna for screening purposes where they will be registered as refugees. From that point they will be taken to either of the four refugee camps where they are provided with basic household utensils, a ration for a month and lodging. To most of these refugees this is only the beginning of the unending journey towards the Sahara and the Mediterranean before they reached the coasts of Italy.

Ethiopia is the starting point for Eritrean refugees making their way to Europe. But few stay behind to try the camp life or move to Addis Ababa.  Life is brutally boring, according to these refugees who head towards Addis Ababa to escape the dull life of refugee camps. Once there they discover a fast-growing city with a population in the millions. Most of these refugees are from the backdrops of small towns and very stagnant economy. Standard of living is very expensive in Addis Ababa and it is getting higher by the day.  They either stay there or leave for Sudan before they head for the Sahara and The Mediterranean.

“Their way of life is very different from ours. They sleep during the day and come out during the night,” said one of Addis Ababa’s dwellers. The normal cycle being vice versa, to these refugee the normal has become the abnormal. Everything comes to life not as the day breaks but rather as the day ends and night has fallen. A great number of those that live in the city enter illegally. Many of those are remitted from families and some hold informal jobs as a means to survive.

Rahel and Samsom are couple and live in the suburb condominium of Addis Ababa. When they first came to Addis Ababa, they had nothing except for a mattress with no bed and few household utensils. But an Ethiopian family that lives next door gave them a satellite TV and a table with chairs. “They understand where we come from and what we have to cross to get here. They try very hard to be a family to us and dissuade us from embarking on Sahara route,” said Samsom. Other migrants are offered job opportunities by neighbors and basic facilities to get started on their new life.

The life of the condominium is very secluded and new to these refugees who have come from a society with extended families living under one roof. But still, to many of these young refugees the social life isn’t as grim as it may seem. “Neighbors frequently ask us if we need assistance,” said Solomon, a young Eritrean refugee who lives with roomies of four males. Most of these refugees do not receive any food stuff assistance from the government or humanitarian groups once they leave the refugee camps and become urban refugees.

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