Migration: Fleeing Eritrea's brutal dictatorship

11 Jun 2015
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On 13 May nearly 500 people were rescued by the Bourbon Argos ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Here are the stories of two of those rescued.

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Tufay Basfil, from Eritrea

“I’ve been on the road for five years in a bid to escape my country's military regime.

In Eritrea, everyone has to do military service. Officially we must serve ten years – but even after ten years, it may not end. There’s no proper salary. We get about US$10 per month – not enough to feed our families.

I left Eritrea on my own and travelled on foot to Camp Number 26, just over the border in Sudan.

The refugee camp contains only Eritreans. I stayed there for five years. As soon as the police find out someone is working, they ask for bribes, so eventually I decided to leave.

It took us seven days to get from Sudan to the Libyan border. There were about 30 of us in a pick-up truck, lots of people died along the way.

Near Benghazi, we were stopped and questioned by Libyan militiamen, who were beheading non-Muslims.

While in Tripoli and waiting for a boat to take me to Europe, I was imprisoned for five months by people smugglers.

If anyone dared to ask for anything, the smugglers would give us electric shocks or shoot in the air above our heads, so the bullets fell back down around us. Others would beat or burn us.

Once a day, we were given a small portion of pasta to share between ten men. There wasn’t enough, and some of us didn’t even get one noodle. The only water we had to drink was foul and salty.

It was very violent in Libya. Even if women were pregnant, they didn't care. One woman lost her three-year-old child just three days before we got on the fishing boat.

All I want is to live in peace.”

Samyawit Habutu, from Eritrea

“Six years ago I was forced to serve in the Eritrean army. They wouldn’t let me out even after I became pregnant and gave birth to my daughter.

A year ago I decided I had to leave.

Leaving my daughter with her grandmother in Eritrea, I travelled first to Shagarab refugee camp in Sudan, where I stayed for ten days. Then on to Libya, which took another ten days.

Along the way three people fell from the pick-up truck. One broke his leg, and two others died. The driver just pushed the bodies to the side of the road and continued on his way.

In Tripoli, I had to wait for three more months. Every night while I was there, a Libyan man would select two girls to have sex with at gunpoint. A friend of mine caught AIDS and became pregnant from that man.

I only want freedom, a job and the chance to send money back to my family. I’d like to work with computers, and find some office work.

If I knew then what I know now - I would never have made this trip.

People with family responsibilities and problems shouldn’t attempt this trip – only the young survive it.”

The Bourbon Argos is MSF’s second vessel operating search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

The ship is carrying a crew of 26 people, including an experienced search- and rescue crew as well as medical staff to provide emergency medical care. 

Find out more about our sea rescue operations