Salaam’s story

December 2016

Salaam is 11 years old and comes from Eritrea. At the time she told this Story (November 2016) she was living in the family transit camp in Ventimiglia, Italy.

My mother left Eritrea when she was two years old because of war. All her family, her parents and sisters and brothers, died there and she went to Sudan. My father is also Eritrean. So I was born in Khartoum. I lived in a small apartment with my mother and father and brothers and sisters. I have an older brother and two younger ones. My father was a barber in a shop and my mother made and sold ice cream. I went to school, I liked it.  I studied in Arabic, but my favourite subject was English. We just had one class a week so I am not good yet. I like football and volleyball as well. I play with my brothers. I did not have to work outside the house, but I always helped my mother at home.

But life in Sudan was too expensive. One piece of bread cost five dinars so living was too expensive. And Sudanese people don’t like Christian people, they don’t like Eritreans. They say: you are Christians.

My Mother is a christian, And my father is a Muslim, but he respects all religions. I am Muslim because my father is a Muslim, but I don’t pray like a Muslim, I go to church with my mother. So I think I am a christian. But Sudanese people don’t know, because my mother says she is a Muslim, but she is not. There was an orthodox church in Khartoum and we went there.

Children playing in the transit shelter in Ventimiglia
Children playing in the transit shelter in Ventimiglia: Lynne Jones

We left one year ago when I was ten years old. My father stayed behind to send money for us so we could complete the journey. We did not know until a few days before. My mother said: we are leaving on Friday, because there is no school that day. So I did not say goodbye. I miss my friends and school.

We went across the desert in a sort of little taxi bus. There were fifty people in it, all squashed together, so it was very hard to breathe but I was not afraid. The journey took one week. We would always stop at 5 am and sleep for a few hours, on the ground. They brought us food and water. Then in the morning the taxi bus would continue.

It took us to Libya, to Tripoli. We got out and we gave them money because they brought us across the desert. But then we were in Libya for five months. Because they put  us in a room. There were 300 people in it all together, all people: Christians, Muslims, adults, children. We all slept on the floor. There was one toilet where you could wash and they gave us macaroni every day. They did not beat us. They did not beat children or my mother, but I saw them beat people who did not bring money. We had one little phone with us. We called my father once and he sent money for us to be free and then they took the phone.

Then we went to the beach. A Libyan boy called  my father and my father explained we wanted to go by boat, and we gave him money and he found us a boat. It was a plastic boat  and there were 180 people on it. The journey was normal but there were two other boats going with us and the one that went before us, I saw it turn over and all the people drowned. The Italians could not save them and there were 250 people, none of them survived. It was far away and when they tried to swim the waves were too big. It was all women and children,  it was very sad. And I was afraid the same thing could happen to us. But then the Italians came. We left at 4 am and they came at 7 am, so it was only a few hours.

Then we were three days in a huge boat and they were good to us, they gave us food and clothes. I don’t know where we landed but they put us in tents in a little camp. We stayed there three days and we ate and slept and showered and they took us to a doctor and said we had no diseases. Then they took us to another kind of camp in a big city. We were in a big tent for three months and they were teaching us Italian and playing some games, but there was no proper school. But we left there because people wanted to take our fingerprints and we did not want to stay in Italy. We want to go to France and Germany. We have a lot of reasons, but it is secret, so I cannot say.

That’s why we have come here. We have tried to cross the border twice on the train. Each time the police have caught us and sent us back. The second time they caught us, they wanted to send us to Taranto.[1] But we spoke to them in Italian and begged them, don’t send us there and they said: Ok, but this is the last time. Stay in Ventimiglia but if you try a third time we will send you back to Taranto.

I don’t want to stay in Italy. We want to go to Germany or France. When I grow up I want to be a children’s doctor because I love children.

Postscript: the following evening we heard that Salaam and her family were in France.

[1] Port town in Southern Italy to which many migrants in Ventimiglia are deported.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.