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Adal and his brother - Telling the real story

Adal and his brother

Hope and tragedy


Adal’s journey

Adal Nigusse began his irregular journey to Europe in 2002. His embarked from Kassala, a small town in the eastern part of Sudan, and then proceeded on to Khartoum. This was a time in which irregular journeys via Libya were starting to gain in popularity.

Upon arrival in Khartoum, people started to ask about his plans to move onwards. From the information he gathered, he decided to travel to Libya. Despite his family’s pleas against leaving, his mind was made up. He would embark on the journey. Ten days later, through the financial assistance of his family, Adal set off for Libya.

In Khartoum he was put in contact with smugglers and, together with 30 other travelers, boarded pick-up trucks. The journey to Libya from Sudan took four excruciating days. Traveling in a convoy of three trucks, everyone was forced to squat with their chins touching their knees in order to fit in the back of the truck for 12 hours each day. Due to the scorching desert heat, the water that was meant for drinking got too hot to quench their ensuing thirst. Throughout the journey Adal and the 30 other people were covered in dust, so much so that they looked as if they had been unearthed from the ground.

The first stop along the journey was made in the border town of Kufra. From there, the group was handed over to a group of Libyan smugglers who were to facilitate the four day journey to Tripoli.

Upon arrival in Tripoli, the group got divided. Those who had money on them were quickly dispatched on different boats carrying 25 to 200 people. The majority opted for the bigger boats carrying 200 people since the smaller, inflatable boats looked so precarious . Adal was one of those who chose the bigger boat. He ended up having to wait a month before setting out to sea, however, since the smugglers needed time to collect a larger number of passengers.

On the day of departure, Adal was taken to the boat that would transport him, together with approximately 240 other people, to Europe.

“They don’t care how many people are on board, but rather how much money they should get, “ Adal recalls. “They just get you on board until there is no space left. Then they see you off, and if you drown after 100 meters, it’s none of their business.”

What followed was a tumultuous journey at sea in which the boat carrying Adal and over 200 other refugees ran into a storm.


Adal arrived in Malta, and after two months he and the other refugees were asked by authorities to apply for asylum. However, by then rumors had circulated among the refugees discouraging them from applying. The rumors indicated that Malta, being a small island country, would not be able to provide them with protection. Adal and fellow Eritrean refugees asked, instead, to be taken to Italy. Unfortunately, they would learn, this was not an option. The Maltese authorities made repeated efforts to convince the refugees to seek asylum, and even went as far as threatening to deport them. But the refugees stood their ground.

One evening, a special unit group broke into the rooms housing the refugees and forcefully took them out and separated them according to their nationalities. It quickly dawned on them that they were going to be deported when the Eritreans were bundled into buses and driven to the airport. Adal’s four month journey had come to nothing. He was going back to the beginning.

“They brought buses and took all of us who were from Eritrea to the airport. We cried and screamed out in grief as it dawned on us that they were deporting us to Eritrea.” Adal says. “Then they deported us to Eritrea.”

Upon arrival in Eritrea, Adal was imprisoned. A year later he escaped and fled to Sudan with the aim of once more making the treacherous journey to Europe. However, his family was unwilling to support him financially. In Sudan, Adal was put in touch with the United Nations Refugee Agency office where a resettlement process began. After eight months, Adal received a message that he would be resettled in Sweden.

Adal’s brother

In 2013, Adal’s brother decided to follow in his footsteps and set out on the perilous journey. Adal and his family tried, unsuccessfully, to dissuade him. Their hands were tied when the brother threatened to commit suicide if they did not assist him.

“He even threatened to commit suicide if we didn’t help him. He said he would rather die trying than just lose his life here,” Says Adal. “He warned us that we would regret it later. We got scared and decided to send him money, hoping he would make it safely.”

In October the same year, a boat carrying over 500 migrants sank near the coast of Lampedusa. It was three days after Adal had spoken to his brother on the telephone. Adal’s brother was not among the survivors.

Watch Adal describe his efforts to find his brother.

Date of interview: 6 May 2015  |  Last modified: 15 April 2016  |
Interview by: Khaled Abdu Mohammedsaid  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Max-Michel Kolijn