Refuge journey of Girmay

Translated from Tigrinya

Girmay is a member of the second round of the indefinite national service programme in Eritrea. He is a father of one child and his entire life was wasted in the military life – in the mechanized division. He fought in all the wars fought by the Eritrean army (1998-2000) against neighboring Ethiopia, as a hero like any other Eritrean conscripted soldier in the so called the “fulfilling of the national duty”, which overwhelmed that period. He began his story by saying, “I was not desperate for very long time”, although his enthusiasm for military life began to wane over time that led him finally to stop serving in the “national (military) service”.

The young man, Girmay spent most of his military career in the Assab front, though he did not hide that he served for some time in the highlands of Eritrea known as “Kebessa” just before he crossed into Ethiopia. He got married in rush as the result of infertility concern because many of his colleagues, who served with him in the Assab front, had been infertile and became unable to reproduce [as the result of being subjected to extreme hot weather for long years].  His living conditions became more difficult and harder, after he got married and became responsible [to provide] for his own family. Although he reached the rank of a platoon commander in the army, he did not receive a satisfactory answer to his complaints and pleas, as he told me honestly and openly. He was full of patience and hoped that things would improve in the near future and that tomorrow would be better, but he hinted to me as he spoke, that with time he was aware that he was wooing his fate and his future. Indeed, I felt sympathy for him. And in that case of a wasted time without any interest and self-sufficiency and the pursuit of mirage spent twenty years of his life in a state that is even difficult to imagine, let alone to go through all the suffering, pain and desparation. “But, the past does not come back,” Girmay said.

I asked him, “How did you make your decision to leave the country at last?” He replied. “It is a long story.” He came on leave to his village of Kodaboor on the outskirts of Sanafe at the end of 2014 from his army unit and spent three extra months beyond the authorized leave period. Girmay said one day he went with his friends to a wedding ceremony in his village and a fighting broke out suddenly at the wedding party, causing injuries to some of the attendees and one person sustained severe injury but survived death. Then Girmay was arrested with some other young people and were put in prison in the town of Adiquala. Girmay told me he had seriously thought and planned for everything when he was in the prison. Just before he left Eritrea, he saw in the town of Mendefera the person who was seriously injured in the fighting incident during the wedding party, after his conditions improved much. He was released from prison three months later but was ordered to join his unit in the army. After two days of his release, he began his refuge journey confidently alone because of his knowledge of the border area that his village is not far from that region on one hand and the experience in facing challenges and difficulties he had gained during his long service in the army on another hand proved to be useful for the journey.

He walked a full night on foot until 4 A.M when he came under a fierce attack by a hyenas. As he grew up in the village, he knew how to react and save his life. He climbed a tree to save himself from the attack of hyenas that spent the night digging at the roots of the tree he climbed up trying to pounce on him. But, fortunately, to his relief at dawn, when the sun shone, the hyenas run away and disappeared. After that, he felt reassured and as he intended to get off the tree, suddenly saw a big snake crawling from under the tree causing him to panic. Never in his life was he subjected to such level of panic and fear before. In my heart I said, “What a horror!”, when he told me that laughing. After walking not far away, he was received by members of the Ethiopian army and transferred like other Eritrean refugees to the Endabaguna refugee reception center. “We will study your case,” he was told by the centre officers. After a week of review he was transferred to the Hetsats refugee camp.

After spending two months in the refugee camp, he began arranging his future programs and accordingly told his relatives abroad that he had crossed to Ethiopia, asking them for help and support. But, their responses were not to his expectations and very disappointing. Even some of his relatives terminated the communications in the middle of the conversation, making him feel despair and the sense of futility of his presence in life. “All my relatives have denied me and I felt as if have not been born of human beings,” lamented, making me feel sorry and sympathetic towards him. In this case, Girmay took his place in the camp for five months, clutching some hope. He told me that he had once called his relative who was living in Angola and asked him to help by saying, “Please send me some money even if it is a loan to pay you later.” Then his relative asked who he was and when he identified, he immediately terminated the conversation. Girmay regretted very much that he initiated the call. He therefore at last realized that all his hopes and plans were frustrated and began to rethink about making new decisions that were not deliberate and which stemmed from distress and desperation. Hence, he involved himself in illegal and bad activities after coming across some people and people from his own village who were themselves refugees in Ethiopia but involved in the same illegal activities. That is “in smuggling people from Eritrea to Ethiopia”. Due to his knowledge of the area and knowledge of human smuggling methods between the two countries, he began this activity without hesitation and fear, hoping to exploit this activity and achieve its goals.

He began to practice human smuggling and made the city of Shere in Ethiopia a center of his main activity while he sometimes came to the camp of Hitsats. He continued smuggling people round after round, making smuggling activity as his career and the source of his livelihoods. He also sometimes travelled to Addis Ababa to enjoy and relax. His life began to change from day to day and he used to boast, “I was in the north.”[In reference to the smuggling activities as the smuggling activities were taking place in the north of the country]. People around him began to say, “What happened to this young man, Wasn’t he a good man?”

Over time, he accumulated a large amount of money to the extent that people around him began to fear and feel the sudden change in his life by saying, “May Good protect him.” Long gone and forgetting were the days of suffering and despair followed by change in behavior characterized by over consumption of alcohols. According to some friends and acquaintances, he began to keep low profile to avoid visibility and encounters with people who know him and used to change addresses and hotels of stay frequently. It was obvious that he had smuggled a large number of Eritrean refugees into Ethiopia for a long time.

One day, as he resumed his activities, he hinted, “I’ll go to the north,” and after a while he disappeared completely. Despite that, some of his friends were saying, “He might be on the way,” a month after his disappearance.  At the same time, some of the people, who knew him closely, were worrisome about the possibility that he might had been arrested, but after verifying that information, I confirmed the news. Over time, it turned out that the activity of the young man, Girmay: smuggling people from Eritrea to Ethiopia, led him to the prisons and disappearances later. And then I said to myself, “Whom he takes [smuggle] people, has someone to take him at the end.” Almost three years have elapsed since Girmay has disappeared and his fate is not yet known.











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