Dhaba is fifteen years old and comes from the Oromya region of Ethiopia. He was sleeping rough in Calais when he first told me his story in November 2017. Today he is living in the UK, studying for GCSEs.
I lived a good life with my family. My father was a shopkeeper in the Oromya region. I have two sisters and a brother. We were happy. I love football- I support Manchester United- and I played for my school. I loved school. I started at five. It was a private school and I studied hard. My favourite subjects were history, maths and English. Everything was going well and there were no problems until the day of the demonstrations when I was caught on camera.
The demonstrations began at school when I was 13. Why? Because the Government was bad and we demonstrated to show our unhappiness. There is a university near where we live. The university students came out, demonstrating about problems. We saw them kicked and taken to prison. And yet our constitution says people have the right to demonstrate. So we school students demonstrated to ask “Why are they going to prison? Will the same thing happen to us?”
They tear gassed us and some students were killed. In my neighbourhood a guy was injured. Some students from our school were killed. Then we demonstrated again. This time I was right at the front holding a banner saying “Stop killing Oromo students”. University students were demonstrating, school students – not just our school – all of Oromiya – it was very, very big.
The next day the police covered the country and no one was allowed out of his house. But I didn’t go home. I was hiding in the countryside. There were older people with us. We realised we would be tortured in prison if we were caught, so we decided to leave the country. We all went separately. I went to another city and prepared for a long journey, then I went to North West Ethiopia. I contacted my family from the border and they also helped.
The journey was really difficult. We crossed into Sudan. It is hard to walk in the desert. We walked for two nights and then stopped in a small village for two weeks until I got some assistance from my family. Smugglers took us to Khartoum but it was not good there. There is no rule-of-law, people just abuse you and there are spies everywhere. So we paid again for smugglers to take us to Libya. It took ten days to cross the desert. We travelled in a truck for three days but in some places we had to walk because the sand was too deep, and then before we got to Tripoli we were kidnapped by bandits. They were armed and in a land-cruiser and started to exchange shots with the smugglers, but the smugglers were beaten and kicked and the bandits took all of us from two lorries and put us in a container. Then they told us to ask our families for money: 2000 dollars each. We were given water once a day and they asked us to call again and again and they kicked us again and again. There was a big fence around the container. You could not get out. Males and females, adults and children all crammed together. The women were abused. You shit, you ate, you slept, there was nothing else to do.
Then they took us to Tripoli. Those who could not pay remained. My family found money. But when we got to Tripoli those bandits sold us to other smugglers and these new smugglers asked for more money: 1000 dollars per head to cross the Mediterranean. They kept us in a warehouse and we were taken to do heavy work carrying stones. I was there for about 2 months. Finally we crossed. And it was just a rubber boat with 100 people on it. It was too small and I was in the middle. I cannot swim and we had no life jackets. I was just about to give up hope, because the water was coming in and I was sure we were going to sink but the big rescue ships arrived.
When we got to Italy they put us in a camp and gave us food and clothes. Then I moved to an adult shelter because I did not want to be separated from my friends. It was not very good and the Italian workers told me as I was young I could go to another better place, but after one week I left with my friend and we took the train to Ventimiglia and tried to cross the border to France. We tried by foot through the mountains, and on the train. Each time they caught us they just sent us back to Italy. Finally I hid under the seats in the train carriage and got across.
That was almost a year ago. I followed my friends here to Calais and everyone said go to the UK. The language is much easier. I was with 4 friends and 2 have already succeeded. They are in England now.
When I got here the Jungle was still standing. I lived there for 2 months. It was hard but so much better than now. At least you had a place that was your own. There were fights, yes, but people got on. I was not there when they dismantled it. By mistake I went to Germany! What happened was that there was a lorry at a petrol station and when my friends opened the back I jumped on without checking. There was my friend and a Sudanese guy and we did not know that it was not going to the UK. When we noticed we shouted at the driver to stop, but he would not and he took us to the police in Germany. They fingerprinted us and took us to camp. We were put in a dormitory. There were so many people from so many countries. They asked us where we were from and why and gave us language teaching and clothes and I did stay for five months. But the language is really tough and they put us in the remote countryside. I have an uncle in the UK and I did not want to stay, so I just got on a train and crossed back to France.
This is not better. I have been living under a bridge for eight months. I try every day to cross. We survive on distributions. Sometimes at night a dog urinates on us. The police take our sleeping bags or sometimes they just take us to the police station and keep us there for an hour. I have been pepper sprayed several times. Sometimes when walking along the Street a police car comes by and they just spray you in the face. It happened the day before yesterday. We had just taken our sleeping bags and were walking and the policeman ran up and sprayed us. He pulled out his phone to show pictures of a French policeman beside the canal. They take your clothes and everything.
Ethiopia? I could go back, if the government respected people and did not kill and imprison them. There is no conflict between people in Ethiopia. It is the government that is making problems. Amhara, Oromo, everyone is against the government, they are not against each other. People are killed in all regions of the country and we need to stop this. We need respect!
Update, October 2018
There were some French people who sometimes came to Calais to the food distribution sites. They had an office in St Omer. I told them about my uncle in the UK but I did not have an address. So, a woman took my number, but she could not find him. I think he must have changed his name and address. But this woman called me and said she wanted to help and told me to come to St Omer. So, I did. I stopped trying the illegal crossings as soon as I was in this process. They gave us a place to stay in St Omer. It was definitely better than under the bridge There were lots of children there, perhaps 30-40, all boys. I spent three to four months there while they were arranging for me to go to the UK. I arrived here in May. I came here by plane, it was my first time to fly. A woman accompanied me and we were met by police because I had no visa. They allowed me in. First of all, they sent me to a town in the North and I lived with a man. He was very kind, but he asked me a lot of questions, especially whenever I was talking with my friends on Facebook, so I felt a little bit uncomfortable. I did not go to school at first it was already almost the end of term. But they sent me to conversation classes. There were 2 friends from Calais there.
And also, I have a social worker. I am not sure where she is based but I see her often, almost once a week. I like her very much, she is easy to talk to and she understood my problem with this man. She changed my home to another town. My new family are Pakistani. The mother and father have taken in 4 refugees. Their own children are grown up. Now I go to school. I am in year 11. There are many refugees in the school and they give us language classes. They treat me very well. Some of the teachers from my school go to Calais to help. I still have two friends living there. My family in Ethiopia are very happy because they know I am safe.
I am happy about that is happening in Ethiopia. The new prime minister is good. We are 84 different cultures and different languages but we are one. For example, in Ethiopia we had Christian neighbours. What we need is tolerance. But it is not safe yet to go back
I will do GCSE’s next year and I want to go to university. I want to get my education here. I like England. The British government cares for refugees. I don’t see refugees on the street like in Calais. No one has been hostile to me. People are so friendly. I have two close friends here, one is from Eritrea and one from Kuwait. They are neighbours. I speak Arabic, Oromifa, English, Amharic and even some French, so there is no difficulty talking. I go to Mosque. The one in our area is a little different from the one in our country. They have different ways of praying. I found another Mosque. The people who go there are from everywhere and it is more like my own country. In my spare time I play football, both with the school and also for a local group. I am going to play football this weekend, with a Sudanese team
I am going for my interview soon. I have a solicitor as well as a social worker. I hope it goes well.