Translated from Tigrigna
It is certain that the word “asylum” in itself bears an obvious meaning of suffering, misery and hassles, and that when it happens, it is directly related humanism and protection for people escape under dangerous circumstances and conditions from the critical situations at home country which lead them to seek refuge in other countries. But to reach the place of refuge and safety they pass through tremendous troubles and take huge risks as they travel to seek asylum. As a result, asylum comes with all its effects and negative repercussions to add to the difficulties and challenges of human life.
Some of the main challenges in exile are integration into the host societies and building livelihoods as it is difficult to get jobs. However, there are exceptions to these and success stories to tell. One of those refugees is a friend of mine who always makes me feel happy and proud as being one of the successful models of youth refugees. Because of the sacred jealousy and extreme delight for his success, I do not know how many times I informed my close friends about his story? The memory of his story is often fresh in my mind. And I keep asking myself ”Why did not I be like him?”, sensing that I am trying to make an unfair comparison of my friend’s story with myself and hoping that there are many other people like him.
His name is Yosef, a former conscript in the 19th round of the national service in Eritrea. He came to Ethiopia eight year ago and as many young Eritrean men, Yosef has suffered the tragic situation in his country which forced to leave his country and seek asylum. He said that he had been offered leave from his army unit to visit family for a month or two months in a year and half or two years’ interval. He endured that situation for short period of time, but after that while he thought he is safe, he was suddenly arrested by the military police in down town of Asmara and taken to the notorious detention center of “Ade abeyto”. He said with laughter that he was able to trick the officials of Ade abeyto detention camp that he did not receive military training to avoid severe punishment and detention. As they believed him, they transported him to the training center known as “Wi’a”. Wia is a remote place with harsh weather conditions.
Yosef was wondered and almost did not believe, when his memory went back to the period he was in the military training center of “Wi’a” compared to his current situation. He remembered very sadly and could not describe the harsh climate of the area and the lack of basic necessities in addition to the inhumane treatment of the trainees at the hands of the camp’s soldiers and guards. He stayed in the training camp for weeks while searching for an opportunity to escape and run away from the camp. He remembers proudly how he was always ready at any moment to escape and spent weeks looking for a chance and a suitable place to escape from the place he described as “Hell”.
One day, the soldiers of the camp took the trainees to a valley in order to wash their clothes, and then Yosef got the opportunity that he dreamt of. He began to crawl slightly from the valley until he moved a certain distance from the place.
Then, a trainee, who was watching him while crawling, joined him in company of another trainee. Three of them began their escape towards Asmara. Yosef used a short fabric he hid under the detention uniform, while leaving the camp. He described that he was very nervous during the trip and they faced extreme difficulties as they were exposed to starvation and thirsty. To ease the unpleasant memories of the difficult situation, he laughed and said that he arrived at the entrance of the Massawa city almost naked (without proper clothes). After his escape from Wi’a detention/training centre, he did not stayed long and fled to Ethiopia, because it was a very risk to his life to live in Eritrea.
At the beginning, Life of asylum was very difficult to Yosef, and he was overcome by language barrier of the asylum country, which made him lose hope as he recalls. Also, the absence of assistance from anyone in that period added to his difficulties, and Yosef knew very well that he cannot continue in that situation thus was determined to engage in any kind of work without. Then, he began his life as a distributer of drinking water and sometimes as a taxi driver assistant and also as electrician and plumber. He was determined to do any type of work without making any preference.
Later, he began to build more relationships and widen his networks. He tried to work as house broker in the neighborhoods where Eritrean refugees were living in Addis Abba. He was enthusiastic and very excited when he began to master the Amharic language. Yosef did not give comfort to himself, and he tried to do as many jobs as possible with a view to become self-reliant.
As the result he was very successful. And that he relied on himself without asking for help and assistance from anyone, which raised his morale and to have more self-confidence. While he continued his work in this way, obtaining driver’s license was one of his priorities and he pursued to achieve that objective with high interest. His next program seemed to stop working in the traditional clothes business, which he used to work for relatively longer time. I could not believe it when he suddenly took me to a car garage to see the new car he has bought. I did not know what to say in the first instance and looked at him admiringly and said unconsciously “congratulations” and then warmly hugged him.
He explained to me in our spare time while we were having tea that working as a taxi driver has a good income, and that one who works in that profession would not face many difficulties under any circumstances. He told me clearly that he was yearning for, and has been planning to work in, this profession since long time.
Although many things come to my mind when I remember Yosef’s long journey, his story is a plain proof that one who he works hard patiently in order to realize his dream must achieve it at the end, no matter what difficulties and challenges he face. Since refuge life is difficult and a refugee naturally is in a need of assistance and support, the situation would not be easy without having the qualities mentioned above.
The lesson we can learn from his story is that hard work and patience in such situation to achieve self-reliance without expecting for assistance is not only impossible, but can also be achieved and that is a compelling fact. Thus this story is inspiring.
If we want to change the stereotype about life in exile, we must first tighten our belt and prepare for hard diligent work, patience and perseverance. That is when we will be able to see changes in our lives and our vision realized. As for Yosef, I did not hail him in his presence, because I understood he is not the kind of person that expects praise and administration though he deserves to be called a ‘hero’.