Gherrye (41 years old, Eritrea)
The first time we meet Gherrye, the reflection of the sun on the water is blinding. He’s sitting with younger companions on a white stone bench, they’re enjoying the warming sunbeams on their faces. But the next day the atmosphere has totally changed. A storm from Greece has turned the sky to iron, and the sea to a writhing mass. No ferries are setting out for Malta; only the Coast Guard boats are out.
We hide from the wind inside our car. “I hope nobody is trying to cross today,” he says while zipping up his Bundeswehr jacket.
His migrant story starts long back, after 12 years spent in the National Army as an assistant nurse. “I come from a small village close to Senafe, in the south of the country. I crossed the Ethiopian border by foot on the 24th of February 2012.” He then spent 8 months in a UNHCR camp, before deciding to move to South Sudan. He worked as a shopkeeper for 4 years in Juba, but “life there is very dangerous. Because of the civil war I decided to leave.”
On the 4th of April 2017 he arrived in Khartum, Sudan. Soon he realized he wouldn’t be able to find work, and therefore his chances of survival were slim. “I called my family. I told them I’d decided to go to Europe, and I asked for money. I had no other options.”
What happened next is hard to believe, and he knows it.
He keeps on repeating: “Nobody can believe what happens in Libya. You have to go there and see it with your own eyes. We all escaped death.”
On the 9th of June 2017 he set off on the journey that would bring him to Europe over a year later. He spent the first 5 days in the Sahara desert, the “hub” for people from the Horn of Africa. Human traffickers wait there to pick up as many migrants as they can.
He paid 4,400 US dollars to a trafficker named Babu who went on to sell him, along with another 74 people, to an Eritrean man, Abdelsalam.
“On the journey people died, suffocated in Toyota cars filled with 50, 60 people at a time.” Survivors were then jailed, brought to a detention centre where they were made to pay thousands of dollars again in order to leave. The facility is run by Abdelsalam. Gherrye tells us that people were beaten up, shot with guns, starved to death or simply left to die in a corner like stray dogs.
We can hardly believe it, so we ask again.
“If your family and friends are not able to pay the ransom, they don’t care. Either you starve to death, or they take care of it…”
“We were praying day and night to die in the sea. To reach a boat and die underwater, but not in that place. Not in Libya.”
Gherrye has a wife and a 5-year-old kid waiting for him in Germany. They went through the same route 2 years back. During the summer they were in contact by phone, but from time to time his wife would switch her phone off. “I am sorry,” she’d say to him, “I am in class. I am learning German.”