#Ethiopia hosted 34090 #Eritrean refugees in Adi Haroush
Addis Ababa,Ethiopia ( DIPLOMAT.SO) – According to a report published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – As attention is on Syrians fleeing civil war, many young Eritreans dramatic escape from their homeland goes unnoticed.
“I’m too young to cross the border, but I had no other options”, a 15 year old Eritrean girl says. She is sitting with legs crossed and her back against a purple painted wall in the house she lives in Adi Haroush refugee camp in Ethiopia.
“I crossed the border by foot with a friend from school. I did not tell my parents”, she says of her flight from Eritrea two years ago. The girl has a baby blue scarf wrapped around her head and wide brown eyes. The reason she left Eritrea was the lack of family income. ”I need to support my parents by going abroad and get a good job”, she states.
She is one of few girls in the refugee camp situated in the foothills of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. Most of the 34.090 Eritrean refugees in Adi Haroush are young males, many of them are minors.
“My mother got seriously ill and could not get enough medical support”, a 12 year old boy gives as reason on why he left Eritrea. He came walking into the camp seven months ago together with two villagers. “I left my country with my friends, but no one from my family because I did not tell anyone”, he says.
Eritrea is a young nation with 4.5 million people on the Horn of Africa. The country gained independence from neighboring Ethiopia in 1993 after 30 years of violent struggle.
The children we talk to this hot day in Adi Haroush all tell the same story, about leaving without their parents´ knowledge together with other kids. “I left directly after school together with my friends”, a 14 year boy says. “I left with six school mates. My parents wouldn´t have let me go”, another young girl tells. Two of her siblings had already gone to Ethiopia. “I had a big stress and left my country”, she explains.
Adi Haroush was opened in 2010, and three years later Norwegian Refugee Council started its child protection programme in the camp. The program is designed to take care of the many minors walking into the camp from Eritrea. The children are either placed to live with relatives, in foster care, or in community care.
“NRC provides shelter, and supports them with family care, foster care and sometimes community care actions, as well as we provide counselling activities through social workers,” says Ahmednur Abdi, Norwegian Refugee Councils Country Director in Ethiopia.
Grown up refugees also take part in the program and help raise the children. One of them is Equbay Gebreyesus, who in addition to raising five children of his own, also take care of other refugee children. Ten children between the age 10 and 15 are in his care. “I am happy to be the guardian for the young boys and girls. It gives me great satisfaction knowing that the kids are safe and cared for under my wings”, tells Equbay, who came to camp three years ago together with his family.
In the camp, NRC also provides the children with food and schooling.
“Yes, I’m in a school now and life is safe here”, the 12 years old boy says. The 15 year old girl also goes to school. “Life is safe here, but there is no bright future”, she says.
Despite the safety, the schooling and the child protections programme, it seems that for most of the children the camp is just a stop on the way. “It seems that young girls and boys are communicating with friends who have made it to Europe”, says NRC´s Ahmednur Abdi, about the many minors who flee alone from Eritrea alone with a plan to go Europe.
A deadly migrant trail
On the purple wall above the girl´s head hang pictures of Jesus. She explains that her plan is to follow her sister across the Sahara to Libya, a country on the brink of total collapse and home to many smugglers taking migrants on the Central Mediterranean route to Europe. She tells that she has lost contact with her sister. The last information is that the sister was somewhere in Libya.
The road she plans to take is among the refugees called the death road. “It goes through different countries that may involve organized trafficking. And though some make it, others don´t”, Ahmednur Abdi says.
So far this year 5% of the 788.000 migrant arrivals in Europe were Eritreans, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Only Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis migrate to Europe on a bigger scale. The Wall Street Journal writes that Eritreans accounted for a majority of the 3440 people who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year. An explanation can be that Eritreans take the longer and thus more dangerous route between Libya and Italy across the Mediterranean. The Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis tend to take the much shorter boat trip between Turkey and the Greek Islands.
The children in the camp are well aware of the many deaths in the Mediterranean, but their plan to go to Europe remains unaltered. “I heard about them and felt sad”, the 12 year old boy says about the news that many Eritreans have died in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean. “Sometimes I’m afraid”, he adds. The 15 year old girl agrees. “I feel sad about them, and fear for my life when I think about it”, she says. But still she wants to pay the smugglers in Libya so she can get a place on one of the many boats that cross the sea.
“I will go the illegal way and cross the Mediterranean, but I don’t know how much it will cost me,” she says, adding that she is aware of the dangers ahead. “Yes I know about the risks and the other problems on the way, but I still need to go. I only have two options: life or death.”