Before leaving for Europe or Canada, Eritrean refugees start off in Ethiopia, the African country with the highest number of refugees (more than 660,000 according to UNHCR, of which around 130,000 are Eritrean). Most of them initially stay in camps close to the border, where “life is not acceptable because of the heat, the small amount of food and because there is nothing to do all day”. What they need is a visa. Many refugees eventually move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. I collected some of their stories
“I’m waiting for April when the waves calm down and the sea gets better. In 20 hours from Libya, we can reach the Italian coast where they will rescue us. I know it is risky, but I am not afraid.” Batha is 27 years old and from Asmara, the Eritrean capital. Two years ago, he arrived at the Ethiopian capital without documents but, by the spring, he will have enough money to take the boat. He tried twice to reach Libya but was stopped in Sudan and sent back. “My father has been imprisoned for four years. He is a political opponent and I don’t know anything about him. In Addis, life is better than in my country, but finding a good job is hard. I want to take my chances.”
Batha’s testimony and pictures are among the many I have collected.
When Eritrean refugees move to Addis Ababa, they discover a capital city that is moving through one of the fastest rates of urban growth in the world, and whose current population of 4.5 million is expected to double by 2040. Everything is under construction. While some of them decide to stay, most try to leave for Northern Europe, Switzerland, Germany, or Canada. Italy or Spain, in their plans, would only be transit countries. Aman, 47, decided to stay to help other Eritreans. He is the son of a Protestant pastor and was jailed for three years in Eritrea. “It was the most painful experience of my life. Here I feel like I am at home, in a certain way. We have the same culture and language.”
The feature was completed in 2016. Photos were published by El País, Al Jazeera, Pagina 99, and Azione.