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Rahwa’s story

A teenager's odyssey from Eritrea to France

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Rahwa’s story

15 year old Rahwa embarked on her irregular journey to Europe in 2015. The decision to make the journey was made together with her friends, and without her parents’ knowledge.

“When my friends asked me to travel with them, I just simply agreed,” she says. “That’s all, I didn’t have other reasons.”

Prior to embarking on the journey, Rahwa contacted her uncles in Israel and Europe who provided her with financial assistance.

Together with three other girls, Rahwa left Ethiopia for Sudan on a motorcycle. The journey to Khartoum took three days. During the journey they were ambushed by gangs who beat them and stole their motorcycle. Luckily, they were not severely injured, and were able to find another motorcycle to continue their journey.

Over the course of her journey Rahwa was put in touch with smugglers through her friends and different ‘brokers’. She provided the smugglers with her uncles’ telephone numbers. In Khartoum, one of her uncles informed a smuggler that he would try and obtain a passport for Rahwa to travel to Europe. Seeing that this would take a long time, Rahwa insisted that she would prefer to leave for Libya as soon as possible. Therefore her uncle immediately transferred 1,700 USD to the smuggler who was to take her from Khartoum to the town of Ajdabiya in Libya, near the Mediterranean coast.

Rahwa had heard of all kinds of terrible things that befall those who embark on such journeys, especially in Libya. She had heard of people being imprisoned and tortured despite having paid a lot of money. And she’d heard about the difficulties of getting medical care in the event that someone gets ill or injured. Despite having witnessed some of the harrowing experiences of other people she was traveling with, Rahwa considered herself lucky to not have endured any such ordeal personally.

In Ajdabiya, Rahwa got on a boat that took her to Sicily, Italy. In Sicily, Rahwa walked together with other refugees and migrants to the city of Syracuse where, via smugglers, they purchased tickets to Rome. Throughout the journey in Europe, Rahwa depended on the advice of her relatives and other people she met regarding which city to go to. She asked her relatives which country would be best, and they advised her to go to The UK.

“Because I am a minor they advised me to go to The UK, as it could be more convenient taking my age into consideration,” Rahwa says.

In Rome, she met with Eritreans who advised her and her friends to travel to Milan, then Nice, and finally to Paris. From Paris, she traveled to Calais where she was staying at the time of this interview.

Life in ‘The Jungle’ in Calais was not what Rahwa had expected. “We live in a tent. It is cold and one can get sick easily,” she says. “It is difficult to plan the journey onwards. We don’t get enough sleep. If you don’t sleep, you can’t make the journey,” she adds.

Her nights are spent trying to get onto trucks that are headed across the English Channel— and these, she says, are not easy to find. Her fear is to succeed in getting onto a truck only to realize that it is going in the opposite direction.

“My brothers, who are living here, advised me not to take this route. But I didn’t listen. I didn’t expect it to be this way,” she says.

“One cannot make this judgment before experiencing it,” Rahwa says. “We aren’t usually convinced of what we hear. But it becomes obvious after the experience.”

Watch Rahwa talk about her journey, and life in Calais.

Date of interview: 10 June 2015  |  Last modified: 15 April 2016  |
Interview by: Saba Kidane  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Max-Michel Kolijn