Shaital is the devil

I’m telling the story of my journey. From Eritrea we followed a road towards Sudan and that’s where I was caught, at Khartoum. They caught us and arrested us. There were 24 of us – there were also 3 Syrians. We were 19 days in that place. After 19 days we arrived at Sabha. There were another 19 men there. There were Somalis waiting for us together with Eritreans and Ethiopians. We were kept hidden all day. We don’t know where we were held – in the Sahara you never know where you are. We were in the Sahara for three weeks. There were Somalis keeping guard over us. There were other men who had been kidnapped, I don’t know how many there were. They took everything from us, money, cell-phones, even our clothes. They beat us, and we were naked, they with their boots. The guards were Somalis and Sudanese.

For their ransom they ask the Syrians for 1,500 dollars, us 3,000 to 4,000 dollars. We don’t understand why. Why they make all this difference between us, if we have all been kidnapped. They are almost all of them black, from Libya and Chad. They sell us as if we were just so much meat. Then Libyans of another clan, with fair skin, took charge of us across the Sahara to half way. There were many women among us. The women they exchanged them among themselves as if they were playthings. For the women it is worse. They choose them, they take them, they do stupid things with them (they rape them). They say: “this one, this one and this one” and they become their personal entertainment. They don’t let them go. None of us say anything. You can’t say anything. They are armed, we are naked. So your heart bleeds for them and you can’t do anything. These men have diseases, they have HIV and don’t use any protection when they are doing their things. They ask you, Ethiopian or Eritrean? If you are Eritrean, you are Christian and so they treat you worse. You can’t react in the Sahara. If you react they shoot you in the knee, in the head, and leave you in the desert. They can make you disappear just how they like. We can’t go on any longer: we’ve got no strength left.

I don’t know the name of the person who sold us, a Libyan stood guard over us. Those from Chad caught the people. There are also Eritreans who do that job, they help them. Ethiopians as well. I can remember some names: Vereket, from Khartoum, Isha, an Eritrean whose job was on the telephone, Abu, a Somali, the one who delivered us at Fukru. What really scares me most is that they are Eritreans. That Eritreans are working with them, that they are selling their own people. They beat us too. We pay 3,000 dollars, others 4,000 dollars. Our families pay. I don’t know what the difference is between us and the others; it’s something horrible, they divide people into ethnic groups, because we pay more. The black-skinned Libyans sell us to the fair-skinned Libyans. First one of our girls became the plaything of the group, as if she were their woman. She never left with us. She stayed there to be their plaything. You don’t say anything not even then, you clench your fists, and just hope. After a month in the Sahara you can’t even speak, imagine if you can react. In the Sahara it’s like coming to the house of the Devil. There are many of us here who came out of the prisons. We were delivered into the Sahara. I can’t fit it into my head, what I saw there. They were on the phone all the time with one another. One with the other.

When we got to Libya, when we were on Libyan soil, I thought we had arrived. There I found another 150 people who had been kidnapped. In Libya they took the girls during the night and did what they wanted with them. The Somali under arrest was there. Anyone who tried to escape was kicked with boots in the head or beaten with a belt. What they did to the girls I don’t even want to say. They didn’t kill us because they needed us for their money.

The Somali who was arrested in Italy was there too. He’s not a person, he’s the Devil. The one who accompanied us for the last part of the way was called Shaital. I tried to escape, they caught me and said, ”See this bullet? It’s for you if you try that again”. It’s a pity I don’t speak Arabic, I would have been able to understand the many things that they said among themselves. In Libya if you escape you can’t go to the police because the police work with them. When they have your ransom money you are of no further use to them. There were 340 people at the port. In Libya they sell and peddle people. There’s no government. First you end up in the hands of those people from Chad or Somalia, then in the hands of the Libyans. They’ve arrested the Somali now, let’s hope that with time all of them pay. We left our souls behind while we were crossing the desert. Before we left in the boat they kept us near the airport, which is next to the army barracks. Everyone knows what goes on there, everyone can see. Everyone knows what happens, it’s like a school. I don’t know how many people were left behind or died. At times they ask for a ransom even for dead people and ask for the money for their crossing in the boat. I have heard prison warders asking relatives for money for people who were already dead. I knew at least seven or eight of them. Here in Lampedusa there were ten of us who had been kidnapped. Four men and six women. The four men are here, the six women were left at sea. They died at sea on 3 October.

This testimony was given by an Eritrean refugee in the Tigrinya language. It was translated by an Italo-Eritrean. The Tigrinya are mainly Christians and live in the region in which the Habesha culture developed historically.