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Eritrean children who cross borders and deserts alone

News | 6 August 2017 Eric Reidy “The main reason I left was poverty,” Yobieli says. But in Eritrea, poverty and politics are deeply intertwined. “My family was poor because my father was a soldier. He was taken to

News | 6 August 2017
Eric Reidy

“The main reason I left was poverty,” Yobieli says. But in Eritrea, poverty and politics are deeply intertwined. “My family was poor because my father was a soldier. He was taken to the army.”Like all Eritrean adults, Yobieli’s father was conscripted into the country’s national service. On paper, conscription is supposed to last for 18 months. In reality, it stretches on indefinitely, essentially acting as a system of forced labour for recruits who receive next – to – no pay.

National service is the primary reason why nearly 400000 people – almost nine percent of Eritrea’s population – have fled in recent years, including a large number of unaccompanied children.

With Yobieli’s father gone, his mother was forced to work as a maid in other people’s homes. But the money was never enough.

“I stopped going to school in grade four because of the difficulties with my family,” Yobieli says. Instead of attending classes, he tried to find work to help support his family as their situation continued to deteriorate.

But even at such a young age, he knew that not all children faced the same struggles. “I saw young people like me on TV going to school and having a good life, enjoying life. So I asked myself and my friends, ‘Why don’t we have the same life? Why are we living these difficulties?’” Yobieli says.

“We deserve to also have a good life like them. We want to go to school. We want to have a normal life The only solution was to take a decision [to leave].”

Once the decision was made, the first step was fairly easy. Yobieli’s village is close to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, and he was able to sneak across without the help of a smuggler.

On the other side he faced a choice. Most migrants and refugees go to Libya where the chaos of civil war has allowed clandestine migration to flourish. But Libya is also notoriously dangerous. Extortion, kidnapping, rapes, beatings, and detention of migrants and refugees are all commonplace. Last year, more and more Eritreans were opting to come to Egypt to avoid these abuses.

“I heard that the situation in Libya is very difficult because of IS [so-called Islamic State] and the other armed groups and gangs,” says Yobieli. “For the sake of my safety, I decided to come to Egypt.”

The trip across the Sahara requires a smuggler and costs somewhere between $500 and $900. “I didn’t have any money,” Yobieli says. But, he was able to tag along with a group headed to Egypt. Some of the people he was travelling with convinced the smuggler to let him come for free because of his age.

“The trip was difficult,” Yobieli says. “We were hungry and thirsty The situation was very bad. They used to threaten us with knives. They also beat some of us.” Yobieli was lucky. He wasn’t beaten and says the smuggler treated him kindly.

Abel, a 17-year-old Eritrean also living alone in Cairo, wasn’t so fortunate. He fled Eritrea when he was 13, after receiving a draft notice for national service.

Zebib, a 16-year-old girl, broke down when I asked her about the journey from Sudan to Egypt. She left Eritrea in November last year, also to avoid national service. When I meet her in Cairo, she’s wearing a pink shirt with small, white hearts on it, the red nail polish on her fingers is chipped and her curly hair is tied in a messy bun.

She has a smooth, pretty face, but her eyes are burning and her voice is choked with anger. “I wanted to go anywhere I could feel safe,” she says, her voice rising and straining with emotion. “If you can help us, I will tell you everything. If you can’t help us” She trails off as tears start pouring down her cheeks and she buries her face in her hands.

It’s impossible to know what Zebib experienced that made her break down because she won’t talk about it. But rape and sexual abuse are so common along the people smuggling routes from Sudan to Egypt and Libya that women often take injectable contraceptives before starting the journey, according to Swedish-Eritrean migration activist Meron Estefanos.

“A woman knows she will be raped at least three times before she reaches Europe,” Estefanos says. Young girls travelling alone are particularly vulnerable.

Cairo is no safe haven. “We are being treated very badly. When we go out to buy something, we are attacked and beaten,” Zebib says. A group of Egyptian men broke into the apartment where she stays with other Eritreans her age. “They fought with the boys and tried to rape and harass us,” Zebib says. Her lip quivers and she stops talking.

Yobieli also faces problems.

“When I go to the shop, they don’t give me change. They beat me in the street,” he says, referring to Egyptians in the neighbourhood where he lives.

“They’ve spat in my face. I’ve had money taken from me.” – IRIN News

Eric Reidy is a freelance journalist and regular IRIN contributor

Review overview
  • k.tewolde August 6, 2017

    Reality teaches this youngsters all the HGDEF hot air that they cannot take to the bank,so they refuse to work for the boss and walk away,however nobody has equipped or thought them that they can take over the business and become their own boss. SAWA is serving its purpose,sequester early,brainwash,disable and release…voila! you looking at a generation with apolitical outlook with one statement- ‘I just want help myself and my poor mom and dad back home’ and the gatekeeper awaits for them licking his lips.

  • Semere August 7, 2017

    ኤርትራ መርኣያ ጽላኣት፣ ድክነት፣ ስደት፣ ድህረት ኮይና፣ 5-ሚልዮን ዝሕዝባሲ- ብፍልሰት ምስተን ሀገረን ዝፈረሰን ሶርያን፣ ኢራቅን፣ አፍጋኒስታን ተሰሪኣ–ዝሞተ እንዳሞተ ማዕለያ ዘያብሉ ስቅያት ተፃዊሩ ፈቀዶ አውሮፓ ተበቲኑ– ዩንቨርስቲ አስመራውን ግዳይ ኮይኑ– መንእሰይ ገሊኡ ኣብስደት ገሊኡ ኣብ መወዳዕት ዘያብሉ ውትድርና ሀገር ተካኢ ወለዶ ዘይብላ ተሪፋ– ሙህራታ ኣብ ስደት በል’ዮም፡፡ “ተባአሲን ጎጃሊ ባእሲን!” ኢሳያስ ሀገርና ኣብ ውግዕን ወረ ውግዕን ከምቲብሊ ገይርዋ፡፡ “ለከመኒ!” ዝበልዎ ወለድና እኮዩ ወሪዱና!!!

  • Toro August 7, 2017

    This is another true reality of the so called “al Sewra al Eritrean” created by the most worthless generation who can not see below its own nose. These poorly equipped and badly educated young Eritreans are the victims of the Arab enslaved minds of their fathers.
    The worthless al Sewra leaders wanted to be like their Arab masters in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt … that is what Eritrea became — a land that can not protect its women and girls from the slavery of the Arab wanabe teweljes in Kessela and the savage Arab Bedouins and Rashaydas Who is controlling port Assab today? Our Wahabi masters and their Emirate dogs?
    Such misery is the fate of people who hated their own grandparents, identity and languages. Worthless people create, worthless political institutions in the sand.

    • Gedamu August 9, 2017

      Well said brother/sister Toro. Poor Eritrea is ripping its fruits from evil and alien ghedli. 50 – 60 yrs of pure madness, mayhem, robbing and destruction.

  • Biniam T August 7, 2017

    Every society and nation get what they truly deserve and arrogant and backward Eritreans got the most monster evil diablos Esayas for life and deservedly so. DIA should rule over Eritrea and Eritreans indefinitely in order to continue punishing the pig-headed Eritreans properly.
    May the all mighty God save the innocent young Eritrean victims but burn mercilessly the old ghedli beasts. Diablos Esayas is purposely sent my God to punish and teach the fake heroes Eritreans.

  • Selomon August 11, 2017

    ሻዕብያ መርገም እቲ ትግርኛ ተዘራባይ ሕዝቢዩ- ብቀንዱ ክኣ ጠንቂ ደቂ ከበሳ- ስለምንታይ ቅድም ኢሉ ከም ጀብሀ ድሀር ክኣ ከም ሻዕብያ ን30-ዓመታት ሙልዕ ከበሳ ትግራዋይ ምስ ትግራይ ብታሪክ ይኩን ብመቦቀል ከምዝይፋለጥ፣ ዛራክቦን ዛማሳስሎን ከምዘያለዩ- ንሕዝቢ ኤርትራ እናነስኦ መፂኡ፡፡ ኩሉ ግዘ ኣብ መሬት ዘያሎ ኣፋላላይ እንዳፈጠረ ከበሰታይ ፉሉይ ዘርዕን መበቆልን ከምዝኮነ ይህሱ–ናይ ደቂ አስመራ ፃዕዳ ሀሶት! ግን ዘይሩ ዘይሩ እዚ ናይ ደቂ አስመራ ዕብዳን ንጥፍአት ደቂ ከበሳ’ዩ፡፡ ሻዕብያ ምስ ግዕዛይ ሀጠው ቀጠው ፖለቲካዊ ሀሶቱ ካብ ኤርትራ እንተዘይ ተፀሪጉ ፤ ኩነታት ኤርትራ ክብዕስ ዳአንበር ኣይማሀየሽን፡፡ ኣብ ከበሳ ልዕሊ 3-ሚልየን ኣብ ትግራይ ልዕሊ 6-ሚልየን ተጋሩ ብድምሩ አስታት 10-ሚልየን ሕዝቢ’ዩ፡፡ ሂዚ ብስሜን ቀይህ ባሕሪ ብደቡብ ትግራይ ብምዕራብ ሱዳን ዕታዋስና ኤርትራ – ትግራዎት ፀላዕትካ’ዮም፣ ኢትዮጵያውያን ፀላዕትካ’ዮም ኣይቲማሳሰል፣ ኣይትፈለጥ እንዳበለ:- ጣልያን ዝሀነፃ አስመራ ኣብ ዩኒስኮ ተመዝጊባ ኢሉ ብፌስታ ዝዕንድር – ብተጋላቢጦሽ ኮለንያሊዝም ንዘላዐለሙ ዝቀበሩ ናይ ዓለምና ፀለምቲ ሕዝቢ ሀበን ዝኮኑ ሀርበኛ ጀነራል ራዕሲ አሉላ ኣባ ነጋ ሀወልቲ አፈራሪሱ ዝድብሪ መርገም- ሎሚ ይኩን ጽባሕ ንሕዝቢ ኤርትራ ቅሳነት፣ ሠላም፣ ልምዐት ዛምጽዕ ኣይኮነን፡፡ ምስ ሱዳን ዝግበር ኢኮኖሚያዊ ንግዲ ንኢትዮጵያ እንትዝትክዕ ዳአ ክሳብ ሂዚ ዘይምተከኣ– ቀይህ ባህሪ ተሳጊርካ ዝግበር ንግዲ ንኢትዮጵያ እንትዝትክዕ ድኣ ክሳብ ሂዚ ዘይምተካኣ- ሻዕብያ ግርህንጢጥዩ- በቡዕዱዩ ዛፍትዎሉ– ሀፋሽ ሕዝቢን ሀቂን ክኣ ምስ ከምዚ ዝበሉ ብኡዳት አይሳነዩን– ነበር መራሂ ሊብያ መዐመር ገዳፊ ኣብ መደረኦም ከም ሀገር ቁንጣር ሕዝቢ ሂዝካ ኣብ ዝብፀሆ የብሉን ኢሎም- እንኳንዶ 3-ሚልዮን ደቂ ከበሳስ ይትረፍ 10-ሚልዮን ከበሳን ትግራይን ሀዊስካውን ኣብዙይ ዕተው ዝባሀል ኣይኮነን፡፡ ኣብ ዲሞክራስያዊ ፖለቲካን፣ ኣብ ናይ ዓለምና ፖለቲካን ክኣ በዝሂ ሕዝቢ ተጽዕኖ አለዎ’ዩ፡፡ ስለዙይ ብናይ ሻዕብያ ዕብደት ፣ ብደቂ አስመራ ዕብደት – ጽባህ ይኩን ድህሪ ጽባህ ምስ ትግራዋይ ምስ ኢትዮጵያ ክፍጠር ዝክዕል ነገር እነተሀሊዩ ህልክን ውድድርን ምፍልላይን’በር ምትህብባር ክኮን ኣይክእልን– ሕዝቢ ከበሳ ክኣ ክርድኦ ዝግባዕ እዞም መንነቶም ደርብዮም ካሊዕ ባዕዲ መንነት ተላቢሶም ሀውተት ዝብሉ ዛለው ደቂ አስመራ ፍታህ ክትደሌሎም ይግባዕ፡፡ ብመንነትካ፣ ብሠላምካ፣ ብልምዓትካን፣ ብቅሳነትን ራህዋካን- ክሳብ መአዝ ኪህንብጡ??? ህግደፍ ብደለይቲ ፍትሂ ንዝወረዶ ሽቃሎት ካብዙይን ካብቱይን ድምፃውያን አዲሙ ብዳንኪራ ቡኩኡ ክሀብእኳ እንተፈተነ አይኪሰምረሉን! አቅሊ ጽበት’በር ኮይንዎ በልዩ’ዩ!!!