It was at the time I was having a conversation with my long time friend in an entertainment shop in Jerief, one of the districts of Khartoum that I asked him about the security and protection of the Eritrean refugees present in the area? Because Jerief is the neighborhood where many Eritrean refugees are present, and where many bad news is heard, that is why I asked him. My residence being far from the neighborhood, I was very eager to hear about the situation of the Eritrean refugees present in the area directly from my friend.
My friend explained to me that the security situation of the area is of concern. He continued to say that it is a place where a lot of abuses and thefts are committed especially against the Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers. He also informed me about an Eritrean refugee who had been kidnapped a few months ago, while she was going from the center of Jerief to a church and fortunately after almost a month and half, she had been found alive around the Nile River. I did not hesitate to contact this Eritrean refugee and as my friend had enough information about her, he cooperated with me and facilitated the way to meet her personally. Then we moved together towards her home.
For her own security and privacy, I have given her pseudonym ‘Senait’. She lives in Khartoum with her elder sister Hana (not her real name). Since she came to Khartoum this is her second year. Her elder sister, being a housewife, a mother of three children, and having lived for several years in Khartoum. When Senait came to Khartoum because of the warm welcome of her sister, she did not feel alien in Khartoum. And because of her sister, it did not take long to get acquainted with Khartoum.
Displeased with sitting at home, Senait began to search for jobs through the acquaintance of her sister and her friends. Then she got a job, but due to language barrier [does not speak fluent Arabic] and due to the hot tempered behavior of her employer she was forced to change work repeatedly. Finally, promising they would ensure to provide for her needs, two of her brothers living abroad convinced her to leave work and sit at home and help her sister at home.
Bored of sitting at home without work, Senait used to visit her friends frequently and to attend regular church services at the St. Michael Church by waking up early in the morning, at 5:30 am. She undertook these activities regularly on daily basis.
But, her elder sister who had a deep knowledge about life in Sudan didn’t stop warning her about the risks of waking up and going to the church early in the morning. She kept advising her to attend the church services if she wants instead. But Senait ignored the warnings and advice of her sister.
Saturday, the 12th of May 2018 is unforgettable dark day in the life of Senait. What had happened to her on that day, I will present it to you as she narrated it to me.
“It was early morning Saturday on the 12th of May 2018 that I departed to St. Michael church from this home which is located in the area of Al-Madares to worship. I left home at 5:00 am. The Sun has not risen yet, it was somehow dark. Even before this date I used to go for church services and come back at the same time on regular time.
On that day, as I crossed the road walking as usual, a black skinned Sudanese national riding a motorcycle approached me. After he stopped close to me, he asked me where I was going to. I told him that I was going to the church. Then he added “are you Habasha [Abyssinian; representing Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians]?” I said ‘yes”. Then continued asking “are you an Ethiopian? “ In order to let him complete his questions and close the conversation, I replied “yes” and then I continued my way. However, he followed me and requested to give me a ride to the church. But I refused the offer. Then he left me and moved. But I sensed a great danger coming and got disturbed hence tried to rush to reach my destination as fast as possible to avoid the upcoming danger.
As he was continued following me, he moved past me and blocked me. And he ordered me to come to him. I approached him by praying in my heart, saying: “O’ my father, Michael, please protect me from this man.” Looking at me with his eyes wide open, the man asked me “why did you decline to accept my offer to give you a ride?” I replied with a broken Arabic “I declined to accept your offer because I was going to a nearby place I didn’t like to ride [a motorcycle], Later on, a red private car came and stopped. At that time I don’t remember what he did to me, but what I remember is that he came close to me. And touching me he blew in my face. Indeed, after this I when became conscious I found myself inside a tent in a banana farm. I couldn’t know where I was. Even after I got awakened I remained dull and I felt as if I had traveled to another world.
And there was no one beside me. I kept crying for a while. After that, the black skinned Sudanese, the owner of the motorcycle who approached me and spoke to me on the road came with two black skinned boys and sat beside me and he asked me “where you are?” I didn’t reply to him, just I kept crying. In response he stared at me with his eyes wide open in a threatening gesture. After I calmed down a bit, he said to “now you will cooperate with us in one thing. What we want from you is money. But if you do not meet our demands, you will stay here with us as our wife”. Hearing this, I got very much shocked and panicked. I wished the earth in order to fashion a mouth in order to swallow me. I said to them, alright if your desire is money, because I have relatives abroad; give me a phone in order to call them, After they gave me a phone, I could not figure out how to remember my sister’s phone number because I didn’t do some efforts to memorize the numbers. And the fact that it is made of 10 digits made it difficult to remember.
I was so nervous and disturbed and I told my kidnapper that I could not remember my sister’s phone number. Laughing with contempt, he kept staring at me in a threatening manner. And he told me “if so you are going to work in this farm till you get it [the money]”. My reaction to his message was crying and weeping. I never cried like that in my life. After that they took me to the banana farm. When I entered in the banana farm, I found extremely black skinned people who looks like slaves. Moving past them they took me to the part of the farm where females were camping. There, I found the females were weak, very tall in stature and black in colour. Their heights were without exaggeration as twice as my height. I started to work with them in the banana farm. For almost two weeks I stayed with the females without talking to them just sleeping in the same place prepared for them and eating food such as fried beans.
For your surprise, the males and females who were working there were working on salary basis. But I was taken as a slave to the farm. In the beginning because I was different from them, the females isolated. And even I isolated myself. Because of frustration I kept crying and my kidnapper refused to come to the farm at all. Almost two weeks later he came and called me. Becoming a bit optimistic I went to him. When I came to him, he asked me “have you remembered the number.” In instant response, I cried bitterly. I begged him by kneeling down by his feet saying “Babokha” (means for the sake your father, in Tigrinya). One of those who was working in the farm came and held me by my shoulder shaking his head. My kidnaper then left for me his telephone and went away. The telephone device was a smart phone with functions for internet access. At that moment an idea came to my mind, .i.e. contacting my sister via Facebook. Login into my Facebook account I wrote a message to my sister and by chance I got her online. From hear message I realized that she was shocked and in panic about my situation. I requested her to send me only her phone number and she did.
Then I called and I told her about my situation. Hearing about my ordeal she cried in panic. Hearing her crying caused me to cry. When I told her that I don’t know where I was held she cried more and more. Then, the man [the kidnaper] came and when he knew I had called her, he beat me very hard with a belt all over my body because he thought I was hiding from him the number knowingly.[because of language barrier] I did not know at the time how to explain to him and make understand that he misunderstood me. He continued beating me until all the workers gathered around me. He also took back the phone that he had given me. He said I will kill you and also uttered abusive words. The next day he called me in the morning and said give me the phone number of the person you called. And I gave him the number of my sister. He said to me “go away from my sight, go and work.” Obeying his orders I entered in the farm and started to work.
During my in the farm, [because of my ordeal], my appearance changed. I almost I looked like them, my colour became so dark.in addition to the fatigue, tenderness, hunger and stress I had suffered. The food they provided to us was bad. I couldn’t eat it because it made me sick. Indeed, I don’t know what agreement they had reached with my sister, he called me to come to him after 14 days and said to me “take the phone and talk to your sister.” As both I and my sister kept crying during our conversation, we couldn’t understand each other on the phone. Then my sister told me “he is demanding us to pay 40 thousand USD. In order to secure your release we are going to pay him the demanded amount. Now, I just requested him to talk to you to get the assurance that you safe. I don’t know they agreed upon but after few days he brought me new clothes and shoes for me wear them. From there he put me aboard a car belonging to another person whom I don’t know and left the farm. I didn’t know where our destination was. After a five hour journey he put me down on a certain road’s side and said to me “your family will come to take you.” Bewildered about what was happening I asked him “how could this happen?’. He replied “don’t worry.” And immediately left. After 10 minutes my sister came aboard a Sudanese car to the spot where I was dropped. I was surprised by the scene and I didn’t know whether to rejoice or grieve. Then we cried and kissed each other with my sister.
What Senait was narrating to me was among the saddest incidents had happened to her in her life. Her sister also narrates the kidnapping and hostage taking incident of Senait as follows.
“In the first day of her kidnapping I was asking myself why is this lady late today?”, then I said to myself “maybe she went to visit her friends.” But by the end of the day I called her companions to check her condition. “They said to me, 'she did not come here today”. That day I was shocked to learn my sister got lost and that I spent a sleepless night. I sat waiting for the whole night. When the dawned the next day I did not know whom to ask. I called our distant uncle who lived for long years in Khartoum. When I told him, he also got shocked. He warned me not to inform my family which resides in Eritrea until we know we know for sure her fate. He also told me the he was coming to my home. It’s so stressful moment. I and my children we spent a very stressful and sad days. After she passed more than a week without any news, I said to my uncle “let’s announce on Facebook and disseminate the information that this my sister is missing. My uncle advised me to wait as he continues his search. Holding her photo with her full name written we went to the police station and the Eritrean embassy to report her missing and request their cooperation in the search. They cooperated in the search though nothing was achieved.
But as she was telling you, after almost two weeks she wrote me a message via Facebook. Out of confusion, I don’t know what happened to me, aware that she is the one, I kept asking her about her name. I thought that I was dreaming and kept crying. Surprisingly my fingers froze and I could not type any letter on the keyboard. I therefore called the assistance of boys who lived in the same compound. I said to them “please help me Senait is writing to me but my fingers have frozen and are unable to type. Even they panicked and thought that I got crazy. Then one of them came and after he read the messages. He told me the she is the one and said “she is asking you what is your phone number”. Because of panic I forgot even my number. By coincidence one of the boys happened to remember my number hence he sent her my number. She called me instantly. After I heard her voice I couldn’t believe I was able to speak to her and cried bitterly. Even my children got confused when they saw me crying and they too cried. The whole house suddenly changed to crying house.
Then, when I asked her after I have been calmed, she told me that she had been kidnapped in a farm inside Sudan where black people are found in big number. But before we finished our conversation, communication was cut off. After that, for about a week we lost contact with her. I kept calling the number from which she called us but no one was replying to me. Even my uncle was trying from his side after I gave him the number. Similarly no one answered him. Finally after we decided to report to the police, one man with a thick voice called demanding us 40,000 Sudanese pounds for her release. His speech was brief; even he did not repeat it to us. He said no other words. He just said “even I don't like to speak more, if you pay ok if not your daughter will be for us.” His stubbornness was scaring. He said to me and to my uncle “if you try to report to the police or if you try to do anything, you will not get your daughter even if you pay money.”
Indeed, because there were no other choices, my two brothers, two live abroad, assured me that there would not be a problem and that they would pay the ransom on condition that the kidnappers release her upon receiving the demanded amount of money. And we reached a conclusion in this proposition. The kidnappers demanded that we transfer the money by means of mobile money to the number used to communicate with us rather than handing them cash. This is a way all the thieves use it. So, we asked the kidnapper “what is our guarantee that you would release her after we send you the money?” He said “no matter, after you transfer the money I will fix for you a place and time and you will come there to pick your daughter. Trusting our God, I and my uncle transferred the money to the number. The next day after we transferred the money, he called us in the morning and said “today at 7:30 pm, come around the area called Sherg Al-nil, near the Iron Bridge and you will get her [on side of the road] as you are heading towards Omdurman. And you pick her from there.” When we asked him if she would be in the company of someone for she is a guest in Sudan, he said “just do what I am telling you to do and closed the phone on our ears.”
Fearing for the safety of Senait we did not report the kidnapping crime to the police at that time. Just I and my uncle accompanied by another Sudanese who knows my uncle, we took his car and we went to the place three hours before set time praying for God to find her alive. Exactly as his words we found poor the woman [Senait]. We don’t know how they dropped her there. We found her standing on the same bridge he told us from where to pick her. We were so protective we kept guarding her. I could not believe that I actually met her. In confusion I kept staring at her face again and again. I also kept kissing her again and again. Thanks God we got her alive.”
Like what these two sisters were narrating, it is a sad history. May be we think it as a tale, but the truth is as what they were narrating it. Senait was released after a month and half after she paid 40 thousand Sudanese pounds to criminal thieves and gangs. And her sister received her sister,,Senait, after so much frustration and desperation after paying 40 thousand Sudanese pounds ransom. What happened to Senait is not a single incident but a common happening where many Eritrean female refugees have been subjected to similar experience in Khartoum. Many Eritrean Refugee women are now missing. And also we have to recognize that whether they have been kidnapped from inside Khartoum or while they were entering from Eritrea to Sudan, many Eritrean females have up to now disappeared and their whereabouts is not known. Congratulation to Senait and her sister [for being able to reunite]. I wish them full happiness.