I fled Eritrea in 2007

Because I no longer wanted to serve in the army. Military service is mandatory in Eritrea. I was picked up from home and taken to the army. You don’t have a choice. You’re told you don’t need to serve for more than ten years, but that’s not true. Once you’re in the army, you’re there for life.

I have had to do bad things. But it would have gotten worse if I’d stayed

You’re powerless in the army, a slave. I worked in the port as a guard. Based on the daily reality I was so scared that I had to do bad things by force. And that it could be violent, had I risen in the ranks. I would not have been able to handle that.

I left to the port of Yemen in 2007. I registered to request asylum there. But they found out I was a soldier and threw me in prison. I was locked up with serious criminals for three years. Some of them were murderers. The prison was always boiling hot. There were no beds or chairs and we got almost no food. There certainly wasn’t any medication. No one knew where I was. I had no hope. Even if I’d be released, I’d have to go back to Eritrea. And I’d be killed there.

In the Netherlands In 2011, the UNHCR, the UN’s organisation for refugees, learned about my situation. They saved me, along with a couple fellow prisoners. Fifteen of us were allowed to come to the Netherlands on invitation of the government.

I never expected I would get out of that horrible situation

I am so immensely grateful to the Dutch government. I never expected I would get out of that horrible situation. Never expected I would be in contact with my family again. Someone like me, who’d lost all hope, was offered a new future.

And now My wife and family still live in Eritrea, I haven’t seen them since I was drafted into the army. For nearly three years, they didn’t even know if I was still alive. Luckily they weren’t upset with me when I reached out to them after all that time. They’re so relieved that I got out of that dangerous situation. I would love to have my wife with me here. I’m trying to make that happen now.

My family and I belong to one of the nine Eritrean tribes, the Afar. It’s an underdeveloped minority group with a nomadic lifestyle; children don’t attend school. They’re considered to be submissive, they have no power of their own, everything is taken from them and they don’t have the option to flee the way that so many other Eritreans do. Being unable to help my people and my family hurts me every day.

I want to give back so much to The Netherlands

I had never been to school before, but am pursuing a degree here. I am developing myself, learning a new language. When I finish studying, I want to start working straight away. The word grateful does not begin to cover what I feel. I want to give back so much to the Netherlands!