900 miles away

This story needs to start with a few small introductions.

The first, and most important, is that this account was not given to me to be used on the blog. It was told to me at the garden table, among colleagues, in an informal and very, very exciting way. Both S-E and I were at the B1 level of German and we had no other language in common between us.

The second important thing is rivalry and war. The Eritrean war is over, but the rivalries continue, so despite having authorization by whats-up to write the story, the main character will remain anonymous.

The third important thing is to understand the difference between a refugee and an immigrant and how things can change from one to another over time. A war refugee can become an immigrant, he can be touched by the safe land that welcomed him and transforms his desires and goals.

The fourth important thing is to understand the contexts of Eritrea, just understanding the context from which our character came, we will be able to empathize enough to understand the size of the leap he needed and needs to continue taking to become a successful immigrant.

Let’s start with the fourth topic.

Eritrea and its wars:

Eritrea is a small country in the northwest of the African continent. Facing the sea, surrounded on all sides by Ethiopia. For many years Somalia tried to invade and dominate Eritrea, bringing poverty, hunger, and suffering to the small country through war.

When that war ended, a fierce civil war broke out. The military government and militias, which fought among themselves, began to call men to war. Someone who could hold an AK47 (12 years or older) could be forced to fight, on one side or the other of the civil war.

When everyone runs away

The situation worsened when, by itself, that small country, a patchwork of cultural patchwork formed icy Mountains, plains with forests and wetlands, with 7 different languages, linked to 7 different tribes formed by Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Evangelicals, begins to have their towns and cities invaded and set on fire and boys are kidnapped to go to the front line.

The population not engaged in the war flees to neighboring countries that are at peace: Libya and Sudan are the main destinations. Thus, in Sudan, huge refugee camps from this and other wars have been forming and organizing over the and for years.

Refugee camps

For those who do not know, a refugee camp is generally a settlement of tents, with minimal support for the maintenance of life. But even though it is done in countries completely different from the country of origin of the refugees, the camps obey the laws of the country from which the refugees have escaped.

Thus, a settlement of Syrian refugees in Germany must obey the rules of the Syrian law system, with due respect for German laws. It has its own control of authority and a certain autonomy.

But for the country of refuge, the internal rivalries of refugees and their tribal or cultural conflicts matter little. Thus, when the settlement is formed, refugees from both sides of the conflict end up, initially, occupying common geographical spaces.

So, refugee settlements, in addition to the problems of health logistics, food distribution, and medical care, can still contain ethnic conflicts brought from the country of origin.

Forced military service

In Eritrea, the military government decreed that youths who did not serve in the army, when called upon, were subject to martial law. So, at the age of 15, S-E (our little adventurer) picked up his meager belongings and, with his family, migrated to the settlements in Sudan.

You see, when we had this conversation, having tea in the garden of the house, I was at the German’s B1 and he was too. So, small inaccuracies of dates and places need to be accepted with affection by you, reader.

The scape

The family walked for more than a year and a half (or half-year) between different countries in the north of the African continent. Food, water, roof, and hygiene were scarce during this period.

If you have time, see on the map the countries of northwest Africa, see the path that needs to be taken between Eritrea and Sudan, and how desperate and lost should one person be to need a big round to arrive in a direct neighbor country.

I believe that Sudan should be with the borders closed at that time. But I can not afford it.

It was there that the family found refuge, initially sharing the tent with other families and later, having more privacy. S-E lived for a year and a half (or half-year) with his family in that field.

His parents added, with work (I couldn’t find out which) and the sale of some belongings, about the US$700 (seven hundred dollars). With which they managed to buy a seat in a truck van to send S-E to Libya. The young man, then about 17 years old, was placed in the back of the truck and sent by the family to its uncertain destination.


The trip across the desert lasted a few weeks with scarce water and very little food and a lot of fear from gangs, tribes, and Sudan and the Libyan police.

The arrival in Libya was a surprise. A poor country, with huge cities, with many people of many different nationalities coming from all countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Everyone is there looking for refuge from their homeland and using the mafia that transports refugees to Greece and Italy (I couldn’t get details about this, but I was also very curious) to reach Europe.

S-E took several months to get the money needed to cross the Mediterranean. The cost of traveling to Italy in a precarious and overcrowded boat was US$1000.00 (one thousand dollars). As I understood it, it was another period of a year and a half (or half-year).

The boat

The crossing of Mediterrane see was difficult, without water and food, they took longer than expected due to bad weather. The boat deviated from the original route and arrived on the beach with almost no fuel. After landing in the sand, in a few seconds, S-E found himself alone. There was no news of the crowd who crowded the boat, nor of the captain. Everyone had run in search of a hiding place or shelter.


At the age of 18, S-E found himself alone on a beach in southern Italy. Lost, hungry and thirsty, having no idea where to go. He had learned basic rudiments of the Arabic language in Libya and that was all the tools he had for his endeavor. On the shore, he resumed his walk in search of his unknown destination.

According to what I could understand with my basic Deutsch, he took 7 days of walking to get to Switzerland, I don’t know how or under what circumstances he made it. I don’t know if he received help or was supported by an institution. When I met him, he was living in Switzerland for two years.

The refugee and the entrepreneur

He had taken German classes for refugees since he had a roof in Switzerland. And, at that time we met, he had obtained help in the community to take a better German course and training as a baker. He had developed a big love for Switzerland, amazingly, his dream was to receive a salary good enough to send CHF700 (seven hundred francs) a month to help the family in Sudan, a fortune.

Where S-E came from, the food is prepared and put to cool, then it is eaten by hand and always with some type of bread. People prepared food together over a common fire for the small community, then each family or person set aside their pot to cool and eat with their peers.

This is important information, connection with the group, with the family.

Despite some colleagues from Eritrea who lived in the neighborhood, S-E was absolutely alone. He cooked for himself almost every day, left the small pot on the corner of the kitchen floor to cool while the bread baked.


Common confrontations for refugees so hated for the European Community, and for emigrants, so honorable: language, distance, and cultural differences make life difficult and create the necessity of mediator with the world around us. A translator.

The emigrant

He received financial aid from the commune and some patrons who supported him. A strong, young and committed boy. He studied German every day, he was always applying for a job and, until our last meeting (September 2018) he stills hadn’t found it. But, every week he had a new interview, from which he gets frustrated because he couldn’t get a job, but he was even more determined to improve his German after every door closed.

We celebrate together when he received his Aufenthaltsbewilligung, the authorization to stay in Switzerland. The Canton of Zürich and the city in which we lived had agreed to take him out of refugee status and put him in a condition of safer permanence. Thus, facilitating the study of German and the search for a job.

S-E did not want to return to Eritrea anymore, his country became Switzerland, despite all the difficulties. His effort was notorious, the biggest one was to overcome loneliness. As he was condemned for having escaped military service, S-E lived a discreet life and communicated a few with his family. He could not be “discovered”.

He received news from Sudan and Eritrea from friends who communicated with his family. I had the opportunity to borrow my computer so that he could open a pen-drive with videos of the wedding of one of his sisters. He watched and cried several times during the nearly 3 hours of video.

I really cannot see the difference between the refugee boy who became an immigrant and other immigrants who, due to difficulties in adaptation and integration, end up becoming refugees. S-E is, because of his entrepreneurship a big enterprise history to be drawn here.

Telling in Comics