An Eritrean minor refugee in Cairo lives under threat of attack by a human trafficker.

October 21, 2018

What prompted Ahmed to carry a knife are the tragedies and threats he has been subjected to.

Ahmed (name changed for his protection) was born in 2002 in Senafe town, Eritrea. He fled Eritrea with his friends to evade conscription in the indefinite national service. After a long and difficulty journey, they crossed to Ethiopia and sought refuge in Ethiopia. Before moving to Egypt he lived in Mai -Aini refugee camps, Northern Ethiopia.  He was frustrated by the isolated camp life and poor services in the refugee camp.

Ahmed narrates his journey to Egypt as follows.

A brother to one of our friends who lives in the diaspora advised his brother to leave the camp and migrate to Sudan. But it was difficult for the boy to move alone as he did not know Arabic nor Amharic at the time. The former is a language of communications in Sudan and the latter in Ethiopia.  All of us spoke only Tigrinya and Saho at the time. The language barrier combined with the difficult living conditions in the refugee camp compelled us to move together. After we collected some information about the journey, we started our journey to Sudan. We were four boys in the group which travelled together to Sudan. After two days of journey by car and on foot, we arrived in the area of Hamdait, a Sudanese territory which is at the intersection of Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.

There we got lost and travelled towards Eritrea. Luckily, we met a certain traveler on the way who rescued us. He told us that we were travelling towards Eritrea and showed us the right direction to follow. However, as we continued our journey on foot, members of the Rashaida ethnic group abducted.

They held us hostage for ransom demanding us to call our families to send money to them. But we had nowhere to call for help.  Thus we remained hostages [he does not know the exact location of the place they were held]. They fed is porridge without sauce. They ill-treated us and kept threatening us that they would kill us if we did not pay them the demanded amount. After four days they transferred the hostages to a different place aboard a Toyota Hilux pick up vehicle. However, while traveling me and one of my friends jumped from the car and escaped. As we were escaping they chased us and shot at us, but luckily none of us was harmed.  As they chased us we hid in a hole and they moved past us and swiftly disappeared from the scene fearing that they would be spotted as the result of the gunshots.

Sadly I got bitten on my leg by a snake while hiding in the hole.  Then I took off my shirt and I tied my leg to prevent the venom from circulating in my blood. Also using a thorn I removed all the infected blood from the part of my leg that got bitten by snake. I suffered acute pain and got exhausted but still managed to continue my journey. As I continued the journey I was very scared from the snake biting. Everything I saw appeared to be a snake.

In total the journey took us 16 days to reach the refugee camp because sometimes we were rotating in the same place due to darkness as we used to travel at nights. As we continued to travel we were captured by the Sudanese security and held in a prison till they had enough number of people to arrange transport for to the Shagarab refugee camp. When the number reached 60 people, they transported us to Shagarab refugee camp. In that period, i.e. by January 2018, the border between Eritrea and Sudan was closed [as relations between the countries tensed]. As the result of border closure, the number of people fleeing from Eritrea to Sudan was reduced. Hence, we waited for three weeks to get the required number of people necessary for arranging transport to the Shagarab Refugee camp.

As my friends’ final destination was Europe through Libya, again we escaped from the Shagarab refugee camp to Kassala town on foot. The journey to Kassala took us four days. After staying for six days in Kassala, we departed to Khartoum through the help of smugglers. But the smugglers betrayed us and sold us to human traffickers and held us hostage for ransom. After one month they demanded from us $1500 ransom or else they would sell us to other human traffickers in Libya who would raise the ransom money demanded to $5000. I collaborated with them by giving the list of names of my relatives who live in Sudan so as to search for them hoping the relatives would intervene to rescue me.  I also gave them full information regarding my name, address and my ethnicity in Eritrea.

Based on the information I gave them, they were able to get in contact with my relatives. I was freed after my relatives paid the demanded amount. In Khartoum life proved difficult and uncertain due to lack of documents and knowledge of the Arabic language. I got rounded up and arrested twice by the Sudanese security forces in Jiref area [one of the neighborhoods in Khartoum]. I became a burden to my relatives as they had to pay the fines imposed by the Sudanese security forces for my release. This situation frustrated my relatives and advised me to migrate to Egypt to get out of such a situation. Based on the advice of my relatives, I traveled to Egypt and as soon as I arrived in Egypt, the Egyptian security forces arrested me and returned me to Sudan.

Again I departed on a journey to Egypt and arrived safely. In this round nobody paid for me money for my smuggling hence I was unable to pay the smuggler for his services. For this reason the smuggler was threating to kill me. After I was held for two weeks in the hands of the smugglers I escaped and came to Cairo and applied for asylum.

The smuggler is from Aswan [A city in south Egypt]. He is called Ebed. He came to Cairo to look for me and others who escaped from him at different times.  He found me through the help of his assistant named Dawit [originally from keren town, Eritrea] though they couldn’t capture me. But they knew my address. Then I reported my situation to Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo (PSTC) [UNHCR partner] for protection. Based on their advice and help I changed my residence. Unfortunately I ended in the same flat occupied by people from Keren who had good relations with Dawit .On the other hand the smuggler, Ebed kept communicating with another smuggler in Sudan named Osman because Osman knows me well.  Osman can easily gather information about me by asking my relatives and those from Senafe [my city of origin] who have good relations with me. Due to this this situation I have no one to trust and became suspicious of everyone hence I chose to stay alone isolated. That is why I hold a knife to defend myself from anyone trying to attack me.


The subjection to the repeated tragedies has traumatized Ahmed to the extent that he became very scared and developed phobia. He hates everyone around him and refuses to sit in crowded places including hospitals and in offices of organizations who provide services. He complains from lack of sleep and from nightmares. The high risk is that if the Egyptian security arrests him while carrying a knife, they will punish him by handing him long years of imprisonment because a knife is considered a weapon and carrying a knife is criminalized by law. Some organizations in Cairo are following his case and trying to facilitate his resettlement process to a third country in cooperation with the UNHCR office.

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