My story is a drop in an ocean. I am just lucky enough to write about my family. There are families with no one to tell their stories. Compared to the number of victims and suffering of the entire Eritrean families, the stories that are made public are, indeed few. Depressingly, individuals who boldly decided to be the voice of the voiceless so far are extremely few and not enough to expose even a penny from the unprecedented suffering of Eritreans.
Due to extreme isolation and prohibition of independent mass media and access of international body to see what is happening inside Eritrea, the world lacks specific information on what Eritreans are facing. The United Nation Human Rights Council established a commission of Inquiry (COiE) to investigate the crimes that are being committed by the regime. Though the investigating body was not allowed access to Eritrea, it managed to collect horrifying testimonies from hundreds of Eritreans living now outside the country as refugees. The testimonies were compiled and reported to UN Human Rights group in its 484 pages report of 2015 (COiE Report). A year after, in June 2016, the Commission of Inquiry Eritrea concluded that “systematic and widespread crimes against humanity are committed by the regime” and recommended the UN Human Rights Council to look after the case.
From the undocumented testimonies of Eritrean sufferings under the brutal regime which is ruling Eritrea today, let me share with you what my family are going through for the last two decades. What I am sharing here is not compiled within the COiE report. It is a refreshing testimony coming from an ordinary Eritrean citizen.
The Unforgettable Memory
My older brother is the one who made me to be who I am today. When I was a university student in Eritrea, he decided to take care of our family. We were ten at that time, three sisters, five brothers, mother and father excluding our grandchildren. At that time five out of the eight were students: two were serving in the military and a married sister whose husband was a soldier. Since none of us was able to generate income someone had to take family responsibility and make a sacrifice for all of us. In 2003 my brother decided to abscond the army, hide, and work to care for the family after serving for four years.
After working for three years while hiding in a small family garden, until January 2006, life became so difficult for him and he couldn’t continue working under the circumstances anymore. While he was working, the military security force took my mother and kept her in prison so that my brother will be forced to come and free her. My father was working as a local administrator and they wanted him to serve them while keeping my mother in prison. That impacted my brother who had no option left but to give up him-self. After one month in prison, my brother gave-up and went by himself to let my mother free and imprisoned instead. After spending a year and half he was released from the harsh military prison and joined his brigade.
In September 2007, my brother was able to attend my university graduation ceremony. That evening he told me that he cannot live in Eritrea anymore. Together with his childhood and close friend, who is now living in Israel, decided to flee from Eritrea. Their escape was an eight days journey. They crossed the border to Sudan and went to the Shegerab refugee camp where Eritrean refugees are camped for decades. My brother stayed there for three months. He had no one to help and provide any support for him and struggled to survive there for three months. Eventually he was able to leave the camp and reach to Khartoum after we sent him around 20,000 Nakfa from home.
Life was hard in Sudan. Since our family was still in shortage of basic needs he continued to shoulder responsibility of our family. He had to work hard. He was fortunate enough to have multi-skills that helped him to work in all sorts of activities. In a short time he managed to take care of himself and somehow started to get stabilized.
While living in such challenging environment two sisters faced trouble while fleeing Eritrea when human smugglers held them as a hostage and asked for a ransom in 2008 and 2009 consecutively. My brother was the only one who was supposed to help. After paying thousands to the smugglers my sisters joined him to live with.
I was in the national service, aka national slavery as many use to call it, right after my graduation, I had no income at all and our family continued to be dependent on my brother. He continued to bear the burden of supporting our family responsibility till his last day.
In December 27, 2012 I received a “missedcall” from my brother. I called him back just to hear him saying “I am severely sick”. We were thousands of kilometers apart. I was unable to do anything except contacting people around him. They took him to hospital. Within three days he died in the hospital after severe internal bleeding. May he Rest in Peace!
This tragedy was one of the darkest experiences in my life. The sorrow I faced is still impacting deep inside my soul.
Through his support, we are who we [our family] are today.
My Family Today
Families Living Inside Eritrea
In 2011 or 2012, [I am not sure exactly on which year it is], my older brother, a second round national service, was inflicted with Tuberculosis, and he was elated when they gave him a leave: he thought it is a good opportunity to work (which is better than being a slave). My brother started to work while taking his medicine.
Because of misery, malnutrition and hard work he was not able to take his medicine properly. His TB became complicated enough that let him change the subscription and dosage amount. He somehow felt good though not fully cured. He had no option but to continue working in the small family garden in order to support his family. By then his TB went deep into entire body organs. He went to a hospital and ordered him for an immediate hospitalization. He spent six months in a military hospital. Because of repeated infection he is almost paralyzed, but we are lucky he is still alive – this brother is a husband and a father of five.
My oldest sister is a mother of four beautiful children. Her husband is in the military for almost 20 years by now. Their oldest daughter went to Sawa in 2012 at the age of 17 to complete her secondary education. After she failed to pass the national exam, they let her join the military force. Since then she is in active service. Whenever I met her on telephone I hear her cry. My sister has also another son who went to Sawa in this summer (2016). Seeing what happened to his elder sister, soon after he went to the military camp he and other dozen of friends left the camp and fled to Sudan. He is currently living in Khartoum as a refugee.
I have another brother, a computer engineer, who is living in Eritrea. After finishing his study in 2011, he was forced to work in the national service. Since then he is working unpaid. He is married and a father of three children, aged 4, 3 and 2 years respectively.
My Families Living Outside Eritrea
From the two who fled from Eritrea, One went to Canada after waiting for six years through a family sponsorship. The second sister decided to take her chance through the Sahara desert and all along crossing the Mediterranean Sea. After three months of life in the journey, she landed safely in the Italian soil. Now she is living in Italy as a refugee. [She has a shocking experience but she didn’t want to tell me the details].
My youngest brother also had similar unfortunate experience. He joined the military at the age of sixteen, in the year of 2007. In September 2013, he left Eritrea to Sudan. He was caught by smugglers and we paid 120,000 Nakfa as a ransom. After spending two years there he finally crossed the Mediterranean Sea in the summer 2015. He is now living in Norway as a refugee.
After serving for six years as a Lecturer in the only existing agricultural college in the country, the government sent me to China to do my Masters degree in the year of 2012. I was not happy there for many reasons. I decided to look for other opportunities and got another scholarship on my own. In 2013, I joined the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship program. Luckily France was the principal hosting country among the four other partner countries.
After two years of study, I finished my Masters degree successfully.
But life was not easy all along these years. I was married in 2011. I left my wife behind while she was five months pregnant. We got our baby in 2013. Unfortunately I was not lucky to see my beautiful baby. In the summer of 2015, I decided to let my wife leave the country illegally. I paid 6000 Euros for the smugglers to Sudan.
I had an opportunity to invite my family here in France. They could not get a passport simply because I refused to pay 2% to the Eritrean embassy in Paris and sign the regret paper. We faced the same problem in Sudan. As life was not easy in Sudan, again she continued her journey to Egypt through the Sahara. She reached Cairo safely after six days journey of life and death. I spent another 1500 Euros for the smugglers.
My wife and my beautiful daughter are now living in Cairo as a registered UNHCR refugee.
My family and I are living in different continents separated by sea of injustice. I miss them so much.
My father, who was shocked over the death of his son, is living in anguish. My mother, who carried and gave birth to eight children, is now alone; with no one around even to help her fetch firewood. A father of eight children is no one of them around to assure and say, “Here I am, father”.
I feel the pain of my mother, her sorrow, her loneliness, and her anguish. I feel the grief of my heartbroken father. None of us is around when he needs us most in his old ages; we are forced not to be around.
I miss my brother. I hear echoes of his voice coming from the grave, talking to me, “where are you, Tesfabirhan? Are you around? Are you fulfilling our dreams? How is mother doing? Don’t let our father sit alone? Be with him.”
Sadly, I am living here in France: as a refugee, helpless, even unable to help my almost four year old daughter. Till today and I don’t know when except I hope so, I am not able to be reunited with my family. They are stranded in the middle of nowhere expecting to join me. So far I couldn’t simply because of a piece of paper that could have let them get the visa easily.
This is the pain from within, cutting my guts. Yet, I didn’t narrate the stories of my uncle, my aunt, my extended family and my friends— how shocking do you think that would be?
Let me add this in my testimonies. It is about the suffering and sorrow of my aunt. She is a mother who lost four of her sons during the liberation struggle. Now she is living in sorrow, always crying, in a small house found in a village – in a house that has no electricity. Her beloved sons fought to bring light to Eritrea, yet, their almost eighty years old mother, like many Eritreans, lives in a dark room full of grief.
These types of stories are what you can hear from every single refugee today throughout the world. You can pick anyone from Eritrean refugees, just pick one and hear his/her anguish. It is horrifying beyond one can imagine.
If there are thousands of Eritreans leaving the country today, it is because of lack of freedom and injustice in our home country. Unfortunately the miser is not ending there. Even here in Europe and all over the world outside Eritrea, our suffering is continuing to exist. We are continuously living as a direct victim of the regime that let us suffer. We live in FEAR because of the extended surveillance works of regime’s embassies and forced obligations to be fulfilled whenever we need help for a different reason.