Cameraman & video editor, 1984, Asmara, Eritrea.

I suffered in my country but never like I did in the Sahara desert on my way to Libya

July 13, 2016

My name is Mellot. I am from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. I arrived in Luxembourg on the 7th of October 2013. I was granted my refugee status by the Luxembourgish government on the 2nd of August 2014.

I will not speak much about my personal life but more generally about the situation in Eritrea. I’m afraid of the life of my family who still lives in Eritrea. 

 

When all of my family will be out of Eritrea I will testimony in detail. The Eritrean government belongs down. I came to Luxembourg to search for peace. 

Both of my parents were fighting in the Eritrean army

I spent the first years of my life living in a kind of orphanage because both of my parents were fighting in the Eritrean army against Ethiopia for the independence. My family is not educated. Their lives were all about fighting for Eritrea. My father fought 28 years against Ethiopia. My mother 17 years. In 1991, after the war, I stayed in another orphanage in Asmara till my father took me out of there. From then on, I grew up with my mother.

 

Editor’s note: The Eritrean War for Independence went on for 30 years against successive Ethiopian governments until 1991. Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993. There have been no elections since. Eritrea is a dictatorship.

 

I am a Pentecostal Christian

I went to school when Eritrea gained its independence in 1991. Later, I went to college to study computer engineering. That is when I got in trouble because of my religion. The government took us to prison. When I say us, I mean the young Pentecostals. I went to prison. 

I am a Pentecostal Christian. My religion was a problem.

In Eritrea religious persecution is getting worse and worse. Eritrea is one of the most repressive countries in the world.

In Eritrea only 4 religions are allowed: the Eritrean Orthodox church, the Catholic churches, the Lutheran protestant church and Sunni Islam. After 2002, all he Pentecostal and independent evangelical groups that had missions in Eritrea were excluded.

In Eritrea, Pentecostal and or Evangelical Christians are not allowed

They are put into prison. Not authorised are the Jehovah witness, the Evangelical church, Seventh-day Adventists, the Pentecostal Christians, the Mulu-Wongel Betekiristian (Full Gospel church) and others. The government controls all the churches.

Some orthodox popes are in jail. A lot of Christian pastors, preachers and believers.

Over 1200 Christians are now incarcerated in Eritrea, some say 3000.

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When you think about a prison in Eritrea you must forget about all you know about ordinary prisons

They are indescribable. The worst. They are underground prisons. Military confinements. Some are shipping containers placed in desert. People are tortured, are denied medical care, some die due to harsh treatments.

When Christians are discovered, they are arrested and held in metal shipping containers in military camps. Or underground cells.

 They are held in prison without trial or charges because of their faith and religious activities. They are not granted access to lawyers.

 

It is very hot in these containers. The daily temperature is up to 47-50 degrees. Your skins actually burns. They put you underground. You cannot escape from that place. It’s a plain, there are no mountains.

Outside the prison there is only the ground and the ground and the infinite sky. There is nowhere you could run to. Even if you escape, you can only die. 

 

A lot of my friends are in prison

Since 2002. Most of the prisoners will never get out. I escaped, I am now in Luxembourg. I can work now. I can live my life but they can’t.

They have no future, except dying in that prison. No one talks about this situation in Eritrea.

 You can’t talk to the media. Even abroad you can’t talk. They find out everything and the result is they put family members to prison. You can not ask about how they are doing. About any Pentecostal person. You can only pray for them. More than thousands and thousands are in prison.

 

I was detained in the Sawa detention facility…

 

Escaping from the prison, from Eritrea is difficult. If you are lucky you can escape to Ethiopia or Sudan within 8 hours. I crossed to Sudan. It is more dangerous but cheaper than Ethiopia.

 

I am frightened about my family

I am not frightened here but I am frightened about my family. I contact them regularly. When I call I have to call from a private number. I can’t give them my cellphone’s number. That could be dangerous for them. My sister is out of Eritrea. She is in Italy now. I asked the Luxembourgish government if she can come to live in Luxembourg. We will have to see. She gave her fingerprints in Italy…

 

In our tradition there is a belief: you can’t beg

The people of Eritrea are usually very successful abroad. They are hard workers. They don’t want to depend on anyone. In our tradition there is a belief : you can’t beg. In South Soudan for example, in the city of Juba where I lived, all the owners of the factory are Eritrean. Imagine how developed Eritrea could be if they could have stayed…

 

In Eritrea, Pentecostals are believed to have a bad influence

In Eritrea, Pentecostals are believed to have a bad influence due to their heritage from the western culture. They are believed to have a link to the western world, to the Americans, to the CIA even. The Eritrean government is anti-American. most of the young educated people in Eritrea are Pentecostals. But they don’t practice, they are too afraid. The Pentecostal churches are closed since 2002.

Once or twice a week, we gather and discuss the word of God, the bible in secret places. We gather and pray. My belief is an important part of my life. 

 The Pentecostal bible is called the holy bible. It contains 66 books. In the catholic bible there are additional books. The book I read most is John. I will teach my son the word of God and read him the books until he is 18 and well matured.

Then he will choose if he wants to believe or not. It is up to him to decide.

 

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The government is afraid of us

Mainly because the Pentecostal are all educated. The university academics, doctors… a lot of them have changed from Orthodox religion to Pentecostal.

 

I am a peaceful person, I believe in democracy

I never fought. I grew up with a lot of violence around me due to the Eritrean and Ethiopian war. I remember planes throwing bombs at us. A lot of children died. I got hurt by some material of a bomb. I have a scar.

 

I had a happy childhood until 2000. At that time the churches had to close and me and my friends got imprisoned. People changed then. Their attitude… Religious discrimination started. Orthodox started to hate us and were happy when we got imprisoned. That made me very unhappy.

Everybody should have the right to have his own religion whether he is believer or not, that doesn’t matter. I can live with muslims peacefully. 

I respect them, a lot even. The 4 religions I mentioned before are peaceful among each other.

 

I don’t know what needs to happen in Eritrea to have democracy. Civil war will probably not be an issue. Eritreans don’t fight each other. My brother is in the military (in Massawa), That means, in case of a civil war, I would have to fight against him. That is not an issue.

 

My wife is Eritrean

She is also a Pentecostal. I know her since a lot of years, when we were young. The Luxembourgish government brought her to Luxembourg after I got the refugee status.

I first knew her sister. I always went to her house, our families knew each other. Her sister was in the choir with me, I was a choir singer. One day while I was in college I asked her to be my girlfriend.

 

After i escaped from Eritrea

I was working for the first private TV station of South Sudan: Citizen Tv. I was working as camera man and I was in charge of the editing. We were doing interviews. I was there half a year. I had a good salary.

But when the situation started to get dangerous in South Sudan, I couldn’t stay there, especially as a foreigner. I didn’t have any security. 

I saw many foreigners die then. The TV station wanted to back me with a security person. What started as a political squabble soon escalated into ethnic violence. There have also been mass killings along ethnic lines.

 

“When two elephants fight, the grass is the victim”

There is a proverb in my country that says so. It was like that in South Sudan, the president Salva Kiir was fighting with the former Vice-President Riek Machar. The victims are the innocent people.

 

I went back to Sudan, Khartoum 

But I couldn’t stay there. There is no work. I was merely a survivor there.

It was then when i decided to go to Libya and Europe. I told my wife I will make her come to Europe as soon as I settle and be fine. 

 She has family in Ethiopia, she wanted to stay there during that time. I knew that the trip to Lybia and Europe was very dangerous and that I could lose my life.

 

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I found smugglers to take me to Libya

I payed them 400 dollars to take me out from Khartoum and bring me to the border of Libya. Then from the border in Libya, I relied on another smuggler to bring me to the coastal city of Benghazi, Libya. (the birth place of Gaddafi ). That was 600 dollars.

It took us almost 2 weeks to cross the Sahara to Benghazi, Libya. 2 weeks with nearly no water or food. They only gave us a little amount of water. I brought some food to survive. There were a lot of Eritrean people. 

 

She gave me a necklace. She died in the desert after her child died

I will never forget a woman with her child. She died in the desert. She gave me a necklace. When we started our journey in Soudan, she was with the same smugglers than me. She was accompanied by her small daughter. She was too young to do that difficult trip. The woman was too week to carry her child. I carried the child.

It is very dangerous for a woman to travel alone with smugglers. They rape woman that have no man with them. So she asked me if I could pretend to be her husband. I agreed. 

 She was afraid to die

She gave me a necklace for me to remember her. She was from Massawa, Eritrea. She was afraid to die. She asked me to contact her family in Massawa, if she wouldn’t make it through the Sahara. She left three children in Massawa with her father. She didn’t give me a telephone number. She told me the place where she lived. She asked me to take care of her children. To help them. She missed her children so much. She was always crying. She told me she wasn’t a good mother because she left them. The child she had with her in the Sahara, did not make it. The child died.

There was a sand storm. There was no water. I covered the child. I gave her to her mother. The child asked her mother: “Mummy, I need water.”

 

But how could she find water for her child? It was night. She couldn’t bring her water. Her mother told her : “Please, I do not have water. I will ask the driver if he has water.”

 We were around 55 people in a pick up car. We could not move. They also transport gasoline, drugs, materials… I don’t know. We were standing. The pick up was driving with more than 200km/h through the Sahara.

A guy fell down from the truck, they didn’t stop. They don’t care about the lives of the people. They only care about the money. 

 

I saw many things

The child died of the lack of water. In the truck. The mother turned crazy. She begged the driver to stop the truck. He did not. The smugglers have guns. You can’t ask them anything. Finally when we reached the resting point, we were afraid to bury the child.

Her mother was holding her and she was crying so much. Finally, the mother, she couldn’t breath anymore, she got mentally ill, very stressed. She was begging for water. She died.

 

The Libyan smugglers are not humans

I will never forget when we reached Benghazi. It is a place of high criminality. The smugglers asked money to go to Tripoli. I paid. But those who can’t pay… the smugglers know how to take their money.

They take organs, lungs, livers… They have places like their own hospitals to do so. I never saw anything like that in my life. People were lying down, cracked.  

They know the value of organs. The Libyan smugglers are not humans. They do not have humanity. Libyans have no education. The smugglers of Sudan are criminals. But they were ok. No comparisons with the Libyans. They don’t kill you if you have no money.

 

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“Just start your journey…”

When you book a trip with smugglers, even if you have no money, at first, they are friendly. They say : “Just start your journey…”

 I knew about the Libyan journey because I had friends living in Europe who had done it. They advised me a lot. I left my money with my wife and aunt in Sudan.

 When they told me to pay, I asked them to give me their telephone number. In Africa you can transfer money by mobile. Not via bank account. Bank transfer is not accepted because the police can trace it. They only want cash or mobile transfers.

 That was the safest solution. If you keep the money in your pocket, they steel it from you.

 

The smugglers are more dangerous than the government of Eritrea

I suffered in my country but never like I did in the Sahara desert. The smugglers are extremely dangerous. The ones that smuggled me were muslims.

 

Crossing the Mediterranean

I stayed in Tripoli for one month. The boat, what can I say… I have a video from the journey. I did the movie with my friends mobile.

 http://bit.ly/29ZYYCA

 

We were 4 days in the sea without anything

We were 301 persons on the boat, included pregnant women raped by Libyans… some children also.

Some stayed more than a year in Libya because they had no money to pay for the journey. The women are kept in a house, they use them as slaves. 

They are raped. But they don’t kill them. Muslims don’t kill women. They eventually let them go on the boats.

We were 4 days in the sea without anything. I was urinating blood, probably due to the lack of water, food. The boat broke once, they fixed it. Then it broke again, water came into the boat. I couldn’t imagine I would survive. 

I had heard that another boat that left before ours had drowned with more than 300 people.

We were suffering a lot. After 4 days, we called the Italian coastal guards and they sent us the Malta coastal guards. A big cargo ship that was passing close to us stopped and rescued us. I arrived in the port of Gioia Tauro, in the very south of Italy.

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Testifying is very important to me

I went to some Luxembourgish schools to talk about my country via Caritas. I told the children how refugees suffer when they arrive here. That is an important step for me.

It makes me happy when the children and the young try to understand about the refugees. 

 Luxembourg is an integrated country

An open country. There is no discrimination here. Sometimes I face racism but it’s rare. Not like in other countries. I work for RSF a firm specialized in audioguides via a state’s employment measure.

Regarding my professional future, I hope to find a job in my field: cameraman or video editor. 

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People are very nice to me. They like me. I am not a neglected person. I can make friends.

 

Until now I have to Luxembourgish friends but I would like to

Luxembourgish people are very busy, they work a lot. I am learning Luxembourgish through a Portuguese association.

 

My wife arrived in Luxembourg on the 2nd of July 2015

The Luxembourgish government made her come here on the 2nd of July 2015.

Getting her out of Eritrea regularly was not possible. I payed a huge amount of money to take her to Ethiopia. From there the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, helped her to come to Luxembourg. 

 

They organised her documents.

She was so happy when she saw me in Brussels at the airport. I can’t explain how happy I was, I cried so much. We hugged. It was like a dream. It was so unreal. Escaping Eritrea… imagine. I was afraid for her life in prison. And then, imagine, taking again the risk to take her out of Eritrea. 

I am a miracle. My new born baby is a miracle

Life is a fight. I don’t know how I will tell my kids how I came to Luxembourg. They will read it…

 

I want my children to grow up like ordinary people

I want them to grow up like useful people. Passionate people. Very understanding and wise people. I want them to help people. I would love if they would help refugees or poor people. 

I saw people dying in front of me with my own eyes. It is very hard. It still is.

Until the government changes I will not go back to Eritrea.

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