Interview with Teenager Eritrean refugee girl in Sudan by Africa women monitor. Translated from Tigrigna.
Her name is Shew’hat. She was born and raised in a village nearby the city of Keren. In her tender age, she left the country and faced the ordeals of a typical refugee. The Interview was conducted with Shew’hat concerning the living conditions of Eritrean women refugees in Sudan in general, in Khartoum where she is living in particular.
Tell us about yourself?
I am Shew’hat Mengstu. I was born and raised in a village called Glas which is 15kms West of Keren town. I studied elementary school in Glas and middle school in Hagaz. In 2014 as all Eritreans I left the country.
What was the main reason that made you flee? How was the situation?
My father was the only bread winner of our family and he was conscripted as a member of the popular forces. And my mother was in bad health condition. Since I am the eldest child, responsibility was on me. All this happened when I was in grade seven. As a result I left school to bring bread to my family. But the economic situation of my family was getting worst and worst. As I was trying my best to secure the subsistence of our family, the Village Administration summoned all those students who left school to be trained at Hashferay military Center and be conscripted to the never ending national service. This was it! The only solution to escape from that ordeal was to leave the country. And I decided to flee. We were three, my cousin Nebiyat, my neighbor Dirar and me.
When you think of migration, especially as a girl, you must take many things in to consideration. Have you considered the challenges that would await you? How did you get prepared?
It is true! It is challenging specially for a girl of my age. But as I have told you the driving reasons, the problems we faced back home, were intolerable. There is no any other option to try or think of. Anyway, I did not tell anyone about my decision to flee. Only the three of us [the deccision was kept in secrecy among those who traveled together] knew about it. Dirar bought things needed during our journey. We started the journey at 4:00 a.m. It was from Glas to Aqurdat on a Pick-up Toyota which was carrying palm tree leaves. In Aqurdat, we spent the whole day in a hotel. Then from around 1:00 a.m, until 5:00 p.m we travelled from Aqurdat towards the west. We arrived a place, which I think, was called Mogoraib. We spent the whole day at the river bank located nearby the village hidding from the villagers. The next day we resumed our journey at 11 p.m. But at that moment Nebiyat was exhausted and her legs were all in pain. Dirar was supporting her. Though I was better than Nebiyat, I was tired too. We did not have any option but to get some rest. Dirar went some meters forward to survey the environment and make sure that we were not spotted by anyone. Though Nebiat and I were so exhausted, it was a must to travel and we had to trek to a place where we can hide ourselves from passers-by.
On your journey, had you encountered any person or had come into contact by the villagers you happen to cross?
Since our journey was during the night, except shepherds with cattle who were camping in caves, we did not meet anyone or were not seen by anyone. We could only see the shepherds’ camps from their fires. And during the day we spent hiding in the banks of rivers or forests. As I have said Nebiat was totally exhausted. And still the journey was infant. The food and water we brought was also dwindling. It was difficult and unendurable. I was exhausted too. Though during the first days we were travelling 4 – 5 hours a night, as days counted, we were unable even to travel an hour. Dirar tried his best to encourage us, but it was obvious that Nebiat and I had totally lost hope. We even affected Dirar. When we reached a place between Forto Sawa and Ghirmaika, Nebiat said
“Please water, water, please call someone I am dying” and right away she collapsed. I was shocked. I thought she was dying. She is my cousin. It was terrifying to see her dying just like that. I started to shout and Dirar immediately covered my mouth. I begged Dirar to let me shout loudly so that someone might come to the rescue of her. I wanted to save my cousin. But Dirar is a calm guy. He did not even give a heed to my perturbation. He lifted her and made her sleep under a tree. Since it was dark, he even did not see where he was making her to lie down. He told me that he was going to bring water and took the empty water container and departed. Around midnight he came with water which saved our life. Nebiat drunk some water and regained consciousness. It was a must to move from the place where we were at. To encourage Nebiat, Dirar told us that we were almost in Sudan. Though I was tired, with the words of Dirar I was also encouraged.
At that very moment, a terrifying incident happened. We encountered two youngsters from the Hidarib ethic group each of them holding a sword. Immediately they ordered us to sit down. They called Dirar and asked him who we are. Dirar told them “one is my wife and the other is my sister.” They told Dirar “Ok. We will leave your wife. But you will give us your sister.” While they were talking about this, I was observing them from afar. But I did not get what they were talking about. Dirar came and told me what their demand was. I was shocked and terrified. My eyes filled with tears. So was Nebiat. “Sir” they called Dirar. Dirar told them “Both of them are equal to me. But if you want I can give you 1000 Nakfa. That is all I have.” The first one agreed, and after a while the second one also accepted. They took 1000 Nakfa and left.
Right away Dirar told us to leave the place immediately lest the guys might cause problems. Anyway to make the long story short, after 7 days of journey we arrived in Kassala [Sudan]. We went to a mosque and met a Shiek. We told him everything we faced. He asked us if we have any relative or acquaintance who lives in Kassala. Since I had brought telephone numbers of my relatives who live in Kassala, I handed him the numbers. The Sheik phoned my relatives and we were able to talk with them. Immediately they also came and took us to a safe place.
You arrived Sudan safely and met your relatives. What was the feeling?
I cannot explain it! I had never thought we will survive. I thought we will die. Thanks to the Almighty God we made it. When I look back to that very moment of the journey I really get terrified. Because we didn’t have any clue where we were heading. We all finished the food and water we brought which supposed to last us for the whole journey in the middle of the journey. We totally lost hope. Therefore, after all these ordeals when we knew that we were in Kassala, it was a relief! It is a second chance to live.
What happened then?
Nebiat and I stayed with our relatives. After staying for two months we told them that our plan was to go to Khartoum. With the help of them we traveled illegally and in arrived Khartoum. With the help of some other relatives living in the Diaspora, we rented a small room. We also started to work. But in Khartoum it became difficult to go to work and come back home safely. Everyday there is roundup of refugees and there are also gangs who rob money. Above all there are Sudanese nationals who want to satisfy their sexual desire. All in all Khartoum has become a very dangerous city to live, especially for a refugee like me. Consequently, Nebiat and I decided to go to Libya and cross Mediterranean Sea and settle in Europe. But we agreed to travel separately.
Why don’t Nebiat and you travel together?
Though it’s advantageous to travel together with a cousin. If something bad is to happen then it will be devastating to our family. As our agreement, Nebiat started the journey to Libya on May 2015. Nebiat called me from Tripoli, Libya, and told me that she made it safely. Immediately I also started my journey through a smuggler named Ibrahim. The starting point was Omdurman and the journey was by lorry. The journey was to the north. When we reached around the border with Libya, we were captured by Sudanese soldiers known by the name of Janjawid. During the first days of our arrest, the smugglers kept calling on mobile phone and were telling us that once we paid money to the soldiers, the soldiers would release us and we would continue our journey. Instead, we were taken to a camp with a tent and detained there for a week. Then we were transferred to a prison called Dungula. In Dungula it was beyond words. There were many prisoners in which most of them were from Nigeria,Syria, Somalia, Ethiopia and India. Some of them were refugees and others were infamous criminals.
One morning, all the Eritreans were summoned and were transported in a closed van. But I was summoned wit the Ethiopians because, when I was captured and asked where am from, I told them that I am an Ethiopian. I was asked to pay 5000 Sudanese pound and I was released. Later on I heard that the Eritreans were deported to Eritrea. I was really sorry for them. My cousin Nebiat with God’s mercy she is in Holland and she is leading a peaceful life.
After all these horrible challenges you have passed, what is your advice to those Eritreans, specially women, who want to flee?
I have a lot of advice, but they will not listen. Everyone knows that the situation in Eritrea is not conducive, but it is we the youth who must change that situation. Migration is not a solution, specially these days. In Khartoum literary the Sudanese security and we the refugees are having the life of hunter and prey. There are roundups of Eritreans on daily basis. I advice those Eritreans, specially women, to stay where they are with patience. I also request the NGOs who are concerned with refugees to play their role in safeguarding refugees.