Born in the wrong place
19 April 2022 /
This is a fictional story
During the spring of 1998, I saw the world for the first time. I was born in Tigray, a region in the north of Ethiopia that shares its borders with Eritrea. These two countries were at war during this time, and so my parents decided to call me Selam, which means “peace” in Tigrinya, my mother tongue. I always loved my homeland, it is a beautiful country rich in ethnic groups and languages. But in November 2020, the war started in Tigray.
Abiy Ahmed, the new president of Ethiopia, decided to destroy the political identities of Tigray due to old ethnic tensions inside the country, and submerged the entire region in horror. Men were killed, women were raped, health infrastructures were destroyed and famine began. I was so afraid to be killed or raped that I decided to flee the country. And so, I said the hardest goodbye of my life to my beloved parents, who were too old to migrate, and to my beautiful land. I only took the clothes that I was wearing and went by foot to Sudan, which was my first destination before Libya. My plan was to go to Europe to start a new life. My parents pushed me to go there, more precisely to England, because it seems easy to start a new life, make money and get papers there. Anyway, that is what they said. Going to Libya was pretty easy, but once I arrived there another nightmare started.
Since the death of Gaddafi chaos has reigned in that country, and several militias operate in certain regions. They kidnap migrants, torture them and film it, then send the videos to their families asking for a ransom. I was one of them. I was sent to an abandoned house full of migrants. We were tortured and raped until our relatives sent several thousand of euros. One day, they took me and tied me to a chair, and then shocked me with an electric cable for several minutes. The whole scene was filmed and sent to my parents through my phone in order to make the money flow faster. I stayed there for six months, while others are forced to stay for several years. Once free, I decided to continue my journey to Europe, but those who want to cross the Mediterranean have to pay a smuggler to get a place on an inflatable boat. I had no money on me and was too ashamed to ask my family for money again. So I decided to beg the smuggler, who agreed to let me ride if I slept with him and his friends. I had no other choice, I could not go home even if I wanted to, my country was at war, my region was destroyed, I had no future there, I had to continue.
The boat was crowded: women, children and men were on board. We stayed in the water for hours. It was cold and dark, we were soaked. We were afraid of dying, afraid that the boat would sink or that an ocean liner would hit it. But as the sun rose, the Italian coasts were within sight. We were so happy, the nightmare was about to end, a new life was about to begin. Once we arrived near the coast, we were arrested. They asked us a few questions, took our fingerprints and then we were released. I did not want to stay in Italy. There, the buildings for asylum seekers are unsanitary, we were not treated well and there is not enough work. Also, I wanted to make my parents’ wish come true. And, since everyone wants to go to the UK, I decided that I would go too! I took the train and crossed Europe to Calais, in the north of France, to get my chance to go to the United Kingdom.
I would never have imagined what I saw in Calais. How was so much misery and violence possible in what I imagined to be the ‘land of human rights’? I had been told of Europe as a paradise. Calais is rather hell. For six months, I stayed in the ‘jungle camps’. We grouped together by nationality, I was with other Ethiopians, Tigrayans and Eritreans. Men, women and children. We only survived thanks to the volunteers who brought us warm clothes and food. I don’t know what we would have done without them. Despite this, life remained difficult. When it rained everything was flooded, and often the police beat us when they intercepted us while hiding in a truck or trying to reach the sea.
Having no money, I decided to try to go to the United Kingdom by truck to avoid paying a smuggler to go by boat. But very few people arrive there by trucks now, since more and more people are choosing to cross the sea. Sometimes several hundred at once. I then decided to also take the boat, because soon the temperatures would drop and life would then be more difficult. To pass without the means to pay, I had to do the same thing as in Libya. Several times we tried to pass, and each of them we were intercepted by the French police. But November 24, 2021, was the last time I tried to cross.
We were 29 on that little boat: men, women – some of them pregnant – and children. It was dark and cold. We did not know if we were going to arrive this time, and if so, when. Then, suddenly, we heard screams. Water had started to get into the boat. Everyone got agitated, some were crying, others were praying. Some of them tried to contact the emergency services. The French authorities told us to call the English authorities, which then told us to call the French ones. In the end, nobody came. We were alone.
On November 24, 2021, the boat turned around and I took my last breath. I said goodbye to my family and my country, which I would never see again. I was only 23, with all my life ahead of me. But that day, I died.
On November 24, 2021, 27 people drowned in the Channel. This was not an isolated event, every year several dozens of migrants die in the sea. Every year, people die in the total indifference of European politicians. Men, women and children are fleeing persecution and simply wishing for a normal life. These are men, women and children who are forced to put their lives in danger due to the lack of safe migration routes. Is this really the European Union we want?
In memory of Marie who died in the English Channel.
Many thanks to my beloved friends/family Nardos, Konjo, Gigi, Wawe, Fikr, Johnny, Lily and Lola, who give me the strength to work every day for a fairer world.