The long route and difficult journey of Eritrean refugees to Sudan

smret and sabela

Photo Credit: Smret and Sabela

Translated from Tigrigna

It is becoming common to see the flow of Eritreans to Ethiopia and Sudan.  In-spite of the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the flow of Eritreans fleeing the country has increased rapidly.  Nowadays the number of Eritreans who try to move to Sudan after entering to Ethiopia has increased increasing the vulnerability of migrants to human trafficking and smuggling.

Here, I have a brief and interesting chat [in Khartoum] with two young Eritreans who fled to Ethiopia as soon as the border opened and later moved to Sudan by paying 3000 USD each. During our chat they gave me detailed descriptions of their journey and the difficulties they faced during their journey.

How your journey to come here, and how was did you both meet?

Simret: I used to know Sabela in Decemhare. Her relatives (uncle) lived in my neighborhood and often she came to visit them and since then we started to make friendship. And when I visited Asmara I used to stay with her. We were students, I was in grade 9 and she was in 10th grade. Almost all my friends (some are older than me) whom I knew in Decemhare went [fled] to Ethiopia. Most of them did not inform me when they left as they thought I was very young and unable to face the difficulties of the journey. These situation made me frustrated and I even felt loneliness at will. Sometimes I even thought of fleeing alone, but due to the [scary] stories I hear about the difficulties faced during the escape I ignored my thoughts and controlled my feelings. I used to have a chat about it with Sabela, but she was so afraid and thus refused to engage in such conversations. We just spent almost two years with such disturbing thoughts of leaving our country, and then thanks to Abiy (Ethiopian PM) the peace agreement was made between the countries followed by the border opening.  Seizing this opportunity, we left Asmara and traveled to Mekele city, Ethiopia.

Sabela: Yea, like what Simret told you, shortly after the opening of the border, I got a call from Simret and she told me about the opening of the border and that any one can go to Ethiopia with out any problem. She even told me that almost all youngsters who lived in her area left to Mekele. I was amused and later I heard transportation from Asmara to Meqele were started. I was surprised and asked if there was valid identification card needed during the travel. The response I got was a very positive one that it was free for everyone. You need just 250 birr for the transport. I did not hesitate and called Simret. She was also aware of it and she came to me to Asmara and we realize and agreed we should take third chance to our advantage and immediately we we went to the bus station located at Edaga Hamus and we left Asmara at 6:00 AM in the morning and we arrived in Mekele at 6:00 PM. We did not have any relatives or friends on whom to rely in Mekele and we started to get confused and feel uncomfortable as we did not know the city. Even though the locals’ speak the same language as we do but the pronunciation was very difficult to understand. I was so worried but unlike me Simret is very active and she has ability to cope easily. So we went to a certain restaurant (known as “3 slasie”) and we ordered a meal. The owner of the restaurant realized we were Eritreans and she came to us to ask if we had enough money. We were surprised and asked what she meant. She clarified her question and we showed her the Eritrean currency (nakfa). As soon as she saw our cash she started to laugh and we looked at her amused. And she told us she will exchange the currency to Ethiopian birr. We got relieved and started to eat.

After we finished our meal we asked the owner if she would be able to help us to get a place where to stay. She was so kind and she helped us with ease. We stayed the night with her. During the night she said “please my dears you are very young and this place is not good for you, theft and crime is very common here. Why did you come here? You should return back home”. When we heard this we got frustrated and frightened. She was surprised by our reactions and commented “Eritreans do not fear bad things even death”.

How long did you stay with that woman (owner of the restaurant)? And have you contacted your family?

Simret: we did not stay long, we spent three days with her. We were very lucky to have met that women. You know mekele was full of Eritreans. Many of the Eritreans who came from Eritrea used to sleep in the streets. After we spent time there me and Sabela agreed to go to the refugee camp and asked that kind women as how to go to the refugee camp. She told us that she will guide us to go there but she insisted that wee need to contact our families first. She gave us her mobile phone and I called back home. They were all shocked to find out that I have left Eritrea. Especially my elder brother got very much shocked and told me that he would come to mekele and take me back home. But I told him that I was not going back.

Sabela: At first I refused to call because my dad is a diabetic and if he realizes I was in Mekele surely he would come [to Mekelle]. And then I thought if I did not call and assure them about my presence [in Mekelle] they will get worried. Hence I decide to call my mom. When I told her I was in Mekelle she was shocked and got worried about my dad [not to be impacted by the news]. And it was expected for my mother to be shocked by the news as we crossed to Ethiopia in the first days when the border opened. After that my three siblings who lived abroad called me and asked me where and with whom I was staying and warned me not to go out [to remain at home] causing me to feel disturbed and worried. Simret too got worried and disturbed. Then we told the woman that we would go to the refugee camp as we fear my dad and Simret’s brother might come and force us to go back home. There were buses that transported Eritreans to the refugees’ camp free of charges as they were provided by the government as the city of Mekelle was overwhelmed by new Eritrean arrivals. Such scene and situation makes sick and ashamed to be an Eritrean. We then traveled to the Htsatse Refugee camp.

Okay, how was life after you arrived at the refugee camp at Hitsatse?

Simret: At first the UNHCR refused to accept us as refugees as claiming that Eritrea and Ethiopia have signed a peace agreement and that the border between the countries has officially been opened. We spent almost a week with out any shelter and guidance. We felt exhausted and even Sabela started to regret for not returning back home and said “have come we come here to end up in this situation”… [Common laugh]. She was right, that life was very hard for us; we just survived due to the cash we had and the food stuff we received from the woman we met at mekelle. But when you see others with out any food, particularly those women with children, you feel ashamed and sad. An Officer from the authorities in the refugee camp used to come and tried to assure us saying “The UNHCR is following your situations closely and will give you a response soon”. When we asked why we face such a treatment, they replied,”you came to Ethiopia legally “these responses angered the asylum seekers and some of the elders confronted them by saying “we are all refugees driven out of our country by the same problems which drove the refugees who came before us. After sometime they started to provide us with little amount of food and water as well as shelter.But it was not enough and these situation led Sabela to think about going to Sudan and she asked me if there were any smugglers that could smuggle us to Sudan.

 Sabela: I really hated the conditions at the refugee Camp. I called my brother Dani who lived in Sweden and told him about the living condition in the refugee camp and how struggling and suffering. But he got angry and told me to go back home saying that they were not the ones who forced me leave Eritrea but did it at my own will though he did mean that he wants me to return to Eritrea. One day his friend from Khartoum (Sudan) called me and asked where I was living. As soon as I told him where I live he told me to be ready and that he would send somebody to take me to Sudan. I was so surprised by his quick reaction and I told him I had my sister [friend] with me.But he said “what, your brother Dani told me you are alone.” I replied to him that I had my dearest friend and I can not not move without her. Then he told my brother Dani about it and they accepted for her to move with me but they asked me if she could afford to pay the money for the smugglers. I told them she had relatives that could help to pay for her. After that I and my brother agreed that he would pay the 2500 USD for me but Simret should pay hers.


So how your journey to Sudan was, is there any difficulties happened?

 Simret: Were connected to the smuggler through Sabela’s brother. The smuggler lived in Khartoum and one day while we were at the refugee camp Sabela’s phone was rang and when she received the call there was a man who said “Tonight a pick-up Toyota car will come you and you need to wait it in the area, outside the camp at 8:00 PM ”. We realized that the smugglers were Tigriyans as we could identify from their accents. We did what they told us to do and when we went to a distant area out of the camp, we saw a pickup car.  When we approached it, the smugglers asked us if we were Simret and Sabela. After confirming our identity they made us to board the car and started our journey. After a very long journey we arrived at a town, called Humera. Then they took us to a Hotel and ordered us not to go outside the hotel.

Sabela: As Simret told you, even thought our journey was by car I was so tired and exhausted as I was so affected by the poor conditions of the refugee camp. After we arrived at Humera town, I started to shiver and vomit. While I fell sick, one of the smugglers who took care of our journey came and told us we would travel later that evening. I told him I would not be able to travel as I was very sick. He was very angry and said “I don’t care about your health what I really care is about my money, so I don’t give a shit about you.” But the truth I was sick and even I was unable to talk; I was so tired and feeling asleep.

Simret: Like what Sabela told you, she was so ill. I was afraid that she might get malaria. Anyway, I was in heated conversation with the smuggler who abused Sabela while she was ill. He told us that we will travel and I told him “we do not as Sabela is unable to travel.” Fortunately I succeeded with my opinion of not travelling that night. Later that evening the chief of the smugglers who knew Sabela’s brother called and when I receive his call, he asked me about Sabela. I told him she was sleeping and ill. He instantly said “please make sure that she recovered soon, I don’t want she to interrupts our plan because we will have another another round after you.”  I got shocked to learn these smugglers do not care about lives. As soon as I hang on the phone, her brother Dani called and asked me if he can talk to Sabela. I told him she went out for a walk, as I didn’t want him to be worried. He told me to tell her he had called her and to call him back when she returned. After a little time he called again and asked why she didn’t she call him back.  This time I told him that she was ill and was sleeping. He was shocked and begged me to hand the phone to her. I woke her up and handed her the phone thinking that he would feel assured if he talked to her.

So how did the journey continue after you arrived at Humera?

Sabela: After I had rest the whole day, I started to recover and feel okay. Then the smugglers came to the hotel where we were staying and took us to the border [with Sudan] which was close to town. At the border we started to travel by motor cycle. The way the motor cycle travel is very frightening; they drove them at high speed as they tried to escape the Ethiopian Security guards located there. We crossed the border at night and we spent the night at a big farm. At 5:00 am in the morning [the next day], they took us to Sudanese people in the farm who in turn took us aboard traitors to a small town that I forgot to remember its name.

Simret: After we arrived in Sudanese town we were so happy and excited. The people that welcomed us provided us with food and drinks and treated us kindly. We stayed for three days with them and enough number of people are gathered to make the trip. Then a Toyota Land-cruiser car arrived and we started to travel aboard this vehicle. The vehicle was overloaded with illegal migrants all of us traveling to Khartoum. After traveling the whole night and day, we rested on a certain village and they told us that we were approaching our destination hence we needed to settle any pending payments. In regard to Sabela, the payment was already made on time but in my case since the network in the areas we were traveling through to contact my uncle (who lived in Khartoum and the one who promised me to pay) did not work at that time I was worried for most of the journey, but thankfully his phone did response when we arrived in Khartoum and he paid the 3000 USD as demanded by the smugglers. After they make sure and confirm the payment they took us inside a small car and move to Khartoum at the night. At 5:00 am in the morning we arrived at Khartoum and my uncle welcomed me and my dear friend Sabela.

You both are very young and teenager girls, what are your future plans?

Simret: It’s clear and obvious, we just want and have dream to go abroad (Europe or western countries) and change the living condition of ourselves and our families. As we told you we came here by aborting our education. Thus we hope and pray we may get and achieve what we wish and dream without any additional difficulties.

Sabela: I did not have any different plan and idea from what Simret told you. We were together and now we are together, we have same plan and wish and hope we will never separate.

  Thank you, I really appreciate.

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