Voices on the Move

Boys playing at a refugee camp in East Sudan.
May 22, 2012 Written by: Pooja Bhalla

“… warn them not to go through what I went.”
 
 
This is the story of the six-month-journey of Kasseh Moheh, a 15 year old boy from Lugama town, Dees province, Ethiopia. Kasseh started his ‘trip of hope’ in October of last year, when he left his family to pursue his dream of a better life. . Like many children from the Horn of Africa, he dreamed of going to Saudi Arabia in order to find a job and earn some money. However, as with many others,   the ‘trip of hope’ turned into a trip of pain and suffering. In spite of the grief that anybody feels when reading Kasseh’s story, one can have the consolation that Kasseh is alive and somebody is taking care of him. Kasseh’s story has a happy end because he is going to be repatriated to his family on 23rd of March 2012.  Unfortunately, this cannot be said about one of his friends who lost his life during the journey neither for many others who lose their lives during their ‘journey of hope’. Their story will not appear anywhere and probably nobody will hear about their pain and suffering...

The decision…
“Last year I was in the 10th class in a school in my town. My family wanted me to attend school and made many sacrifices to allow me to complete my education…my father is a farmer and my mother looks after the house. In the afternoons and weekends I worked in a pastry shop to help the family.”

 “A group of my friends decided to go to Saudi Arabia as they heard from others who had been there that it is possible to find a job and earn a lot of money. My family did not agree with my plan of going to Saudi Arabia. But one Saturday last October, without saying anything to my family, I went with my friends to Addis. I was the youngest amongst my friends. From Addis we walked for some 11 days through the Afar desert to Djibouti. We were buying only some flour and water, we had to pay double or triple prices for the few these. The food that we were able to buy was not enough… one of my fellows died in the desert. During our trip we came across the body of a dead girl that was half buried in the sand, probably she died also of starvation like my fellow. When we reached Hoya, I had almost run out of money so I contacted my family and asked them to send me some; they sent me 4000 Birrs ($231)”.

The boat crossing….
“When we reached the cost of Djibouti we had to pay 5000 Birr ($289) to be taken to Yemen. The boat was full, I counted 132, on the boat and there were two Yemeni boatmen. There were also 3 girls, one of whom was speaking Arabic and she was translating what the boatman was saying. The boat trip lasted around 7 hours. When we reached a distance that we can see the Yemeni cost the boat was stopped. One of the two boatmen was calling somebody in Yemen. We thought that he got lost. After a while we realized that he was waiting for the smugglers to arrive before he lets us reach the beach. He asked the girl to translate that there will be a man called Abdul Alqawi who will be waiting for us on the beach and that he will feed us and provide us with water and help us to reach Saudi Arabia. When two small trucks appeared on the beach, our boat was turned on and reached the beach in few minutes and was stopped on a short distance from the beach, in order to reach the mainland we had to swim.   When we reached the two trucks we realized that there were 8 men on them with guns. We got on the trucks and we were taken to a house in the desert where we were given some food and water”.

The captivity and extortion…
Soon after, the armed men started to ask each of us to provide them with the numbers of our relatives in Saudi Arabia, many have done, but I didn’t.When the night fell over Abdul Alqawi came to me, he was chewing qat, he started beating me with a stick, he continued until I lost consciousness. Since I don’t have any relative in Saudi Arabia I gave him the only number I had, it was my friend’s, he asked me to call him, and I did, but my friend hung up, Abdul Alqawi asked me to call back and my friend hung up again. At that point Abdul Alqawi hit me on the back of my head and I lost consciousness again. One fellow had pity of me and called his friend in Saudi Arabia and asked his friend to send me some money, he sent eight hundred Saudi riyals. My fellow said that it was a loan from a fellow who had pity of me. We spent 4 days in that house, during which two of my friends with whom I started the trip managed to escape.

Then the men started to ask each of us to give them numbers of our relatives in Saudi Arabia, many have done, but I didn’t. That night Abdul Alqawi, he was chewing khat, he started beating me with a stick, he continued until I fainted. Since I don’t have any relative in Saudi Arabia I gave him the only number I had, it was my friend’s, he asked me to call him, and I did, but my friend cut the call. Abdul Alqawi asked me to call back and my friend cut the call again. Abdul Alqawi hit me on the back of my head and I fainted again. One fellow had pity on me and called his friend in Saudi Arabia and asked his friend to send me some money… he sent 800 Saudi Riyals ($213) as a loan. We spent 4 days in that house, during which two of my friends with whom I started the trip managed to escape.

The desperation…
Abdul Alqawi, once he collected the money, said that he would help us to reach Saudi Arabia border. I did not trust this man and I spoke to my fellows about my fear that he may sell us to another person. With other five fellows we refused to go with Abdul Alqawi’s truck and we started to walk in the desert. After 4 days we reached the Saudi border near an area called Sabia. A group of men on motorcycles came to us and started to threaten us, probably they were Saudi smugglers. We were frightened and we started to run away in all directions.   At a short distance, there was a Saudi man sitting in his pickup who was watching us, he came near to me and offered to take us to a safe place. With others I got on the back of the pickup and he drove us to a camp in Haradh(northern Yemen).

There I saw many Ethiopian people in the camp and I was happy because for the first time I saw that somebody was helping them and was not asking for money or phone numbers of relatives. But I was desperate to go to Saudi Arabia. Two hours after our arrival to the camp I started again to go to the Saudi border, now I know the direction and where to go. After around 3 hours of walking we reached the border but we were arrested by Saudi police when we crossed the border. With other young people we were kept in the bathroom of the police station all the night. In the morning we were taken to Jizan police station where we were photographed. We were released on the border and ordered to go back toward Haradh. After my last night experience I was feeling as  a dead person, I started to ask myself if I really wanted to go again to Saudi Arabia… I was feeling very sick. During our walk to Haradh we were stopped by a group of men with guns…they took the 3 women in our group, I was so tired and sick that I was not able to think about what was going on around me.

Safe but scarred…
Finally we reached the camp and I started to receive medical help. Few days after I was taken to a centre (INTERSOS) where I started to feel alive again.

Now the only thing that I want is to go back home, I was happy when some people from the Ethiopian Embassy came to visit us and I was informed that in few days I will be back home.

I feel frightened to meet my family, as much as I am happy for this moment, I also feel guilty because I went through this experience against the willing of my family… I feel sorry for all the worries I gave to my family.

When I think about my ‘trip’, I feel sad for what I went through… I feel sad for my friend who died in my hands in the desert…I feel uneasy when I cannot sleep at night because I have in mind his image or the image of the dead girl in the desert. I feel upset when I think about what I have seen in Abdul Alqawi place, about torture and bad treatment of poor people, about the attitudes of Abdul Alqawi’s men toward us and they were always ready to torture and even kill.  I feel fearful about each moment in which I thought that I was going to die. I feel worried when I think that there are many kids like me who are planning  to do the same thinking that they will have a better life out of their country.

My ‘truth’ for the future…
My only dream now is that somebody may stop these ‘trips’ that are full of pain and suffering for poor people. My only truth now is to tell my friends about what happened to me and warn them not to go through what I went.  I believe that I will be able even to use violence, in order to stop anybody from doing what I’ve done.

Kasseh’s story was given to RMMS by INTERSOS, Yemen who interviewed him in Haradh in early 2012.

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