At The Cinema

Faces and Voices- Grown-Ups

E. Tesfay – Age 26

cinema2I fled Eritrea in 2012. I paid some smugglers in western Eritrea to take me to the Red Cross in Sudan. Instead I was sold to traffickers, who placed me in a group with 23 other refugees. We were driven through Egypt to Sinai. During the journey the traffickers beat us with sticks. In Sinai we were sold yet again, to a group that demanded $33,000 of each hostage. 

cinema1We were shackled at our ankles and wrists. Burning kerosene was poured on us. We were sometimes placed on the ground, where the soles of our feet were beaten with iron rods. We were also hung from the ceiling and beaten. From all of this I still have severe pain. Two girls in our group were gang-raped; one became pregnant; one had her breasts burned. Eight of the 24 died from torture – I saw them die, and I was forced to sleep next to their corpses. Seven who couldn’t pay were sold to other traffickers. The ten others, including myself, agreed to and were able to pay. Some of my relatives in Eritrea raised money from neighbors and friends – everyone they knew helped, even by selling their houses. But then our captors demanded an additional $33,000 from each of us. So we decided to try an escape, because we knew we would die anyway. We cut our chains with a hard stone, then we escaped through the metal walls of the shed in which we were held.

We walked to a safe house, where we stayed for a month. Dr. Alganesh [the humanitarian] arrived at the safe house and got us papers.   But the Egyptian police in Sinai wouldn’t let her take us to Cairo, so we stayed in a Sinai prison for four months. There the conditions were poor: we were crowded 50 to a room, we received only four pieces of bread per day, and we had to sleep on the concrete floors (a Catholic nun provided some blankets). In the prison our numbers rose to 50. Dr. Alganesh returned, she paid for our air fare, and we flew to Ethiopia, arriving in May 2013.

Ten members of the hostage group are here in the camp. I don’t know what has become of the others. My family is impoverished, so I must support myself. I am trying to run a simple cinema here in the camp [a TV screen on which movies and music videos are played], but it’s a hand-to-mouth existence. I continue to have pain in my feet and find it difficult to walk. In other ways, too, I have not fully recovered from the trauma.  I am aware of the support group for Sinai torture survivors in the camp, but I haven’t joined – I see no value in it, for me. I have no friends, and no way to communicate with my family in Eritrea. I run the cinema. This is my life.