A single Eritrean mother had to shift residence 6 times in five months in Cairo to escape assault

October 26, 2018

She is Fatna Saeid; she was born in Keren-Eritrea on the first of January 1981. She joined the military service when she was seventeen years old. She was recruited in the fifth round national service in July 1996. Members of the preceding rounds were able to return home in time after completing the mandatory 18 months of national service. However, the fate of the fifth round was different. In anticipation of the border war with Ethiopia, the fifth round was retained. After the completion of the military training she was assigned in Corps 2001 and participated in three battles in the Area of Zalambasa. After the war ended, she moved to Elabered (Anseba Region) and as assigned as a policewoman and finally joined the Traffic police in Keren (her city of origin).

Being a female and staying with soldiers was so difficult for Fatna. Although she was facing a lot of abuses and harassments in the hands of the commanders, she overcome all the challenges and remained in her unit of assignment hoping that one day she would be released and be able to lead her private life. But her miseries and sufferings continued unabated pushing her tolerance to the limit. The commanders mistreated her to the extent of denying her annual leave. Whenever she tried to stay at home, they would look for her and punish her by forcing to do hard labor.

As the national service was extended indefinitely, Fatna was frustrated and started to think about how to build her future and compensate for the wasted time. Hence, she decided to escape from the country in order to get some relief and freedom.

Following this decision, at the beginning of 2007, aided by smugglers, she started her long journey from Keren to Sudan (Kassala). In the journey, she faced difficulties. I asked what difficulties she had faced in her journey, Fatna went mute for a few seconds with tears flowing down her chicks. I waited with eagerness for some minutes for her response while trying to console and calm her saying “do not worry, the future is bright and will catch up and will be able to compensate the time wasted and opportunities lost.”  She replied “I don’t think so” and narrated her ordeals as follows.

 After we arrived in Sudan the smugglers asked me to pay extra money and locked me in a room. Then they raped me and after I got exhausted as the result of the rape they abandoned me in a certain location in the neighbourhood of Kassala town. As the result of the rape I gave birth to my elder son in Khartoum. In Khartoum, I got acquainted with a young Eritrean man. He stood with me and helped me in getting familiarized with different places and service providers in Khartoum. Finally we agreed to build our future together and got married.

But my family was not happy with the marriage. They opposed my marriage to him because he did not to pay the marriage duties and dowry. He just married me and became a father to my son [born as the result of the rape].  However, I realized later that he was an opportunistic man. First, he started to hate my son [born as the result of the rape]. And secondly, he became an economic burden to me because he was not contributing anything financially to the needs of the family. There were repeated conflicts between his family and my family back home in Eritrea. And the conflicts between our families back home further contributed to the deterioration of our relations. Hence he became increasingly abusive, abusing me and my children. He kept threatening me with violence. As I got frustrated with the situation, I asked him to divorce me but he refused.  And finally he abandoned me and disappeared.

I convinced myself that there was no one to blame except myself. I told my friends about my problems and through their help I fled with my children to Egypt in May 2015. Here in Egypt I am suffering too. This is my fourth year since I came here to Egypt and two years since I became a recognized refugee with the UNHCR. But still I don’t see any help and solution to my ordeals. My children Muktar (10 years old), Nejat (8 years old), Zuhor (7 years old) and Ali (5 years old), all of them still do not attend any schooling and this irritates me gravely. My children do not go to school because the amount I get from the UNHCR and its partner organization, CRS for schooling is only 1500 Egyptian Pounds per a year for each student which is not sufficient. School registration fee alone is above 4000 pounds per student excluding transportation costs.

The question is where can the extra amount come from to cover the expenses? Due to the lack of financial capacity to pay school fees, I let them stay at home. Even when I started to work, the work places are very far and required long hours (8am to 9pm) of work and this is difficult to engage in leaving children alone at home with no adult to look after them.

The area where I was living in Cairo (Ardeliwa) was very dangerous as it was full of gangs and druggists. I chose to live there because I got a small and cheap apartment (at 500 Egyptian pound per a month), which means I could manage to live on the 900 Pounds which I received from CARITAS (UNHCR partner organization). After the gangs knew I am a single mother living alone [with no man to protect the family], the gangsters in the area started to harass and assault me. Many times they knocked on our door pretending to have reasons to come to our home. They claimed they wanted to check “the sewage drainages, the toilet and others facilities in the apartment.” Nevertheless, I never let them in.

One day (May 2018), my friend who used to live with me and migrated by the sea to Europe remitted me some money. The money transfer agent called me at night (at 12am) and requested to meet me in order to hand over the money to me. I told him I could not come at that time. But he insisted that I must come at that time otherwise I would not be able to get him another time claiming that he came to my area  for the sole purpose of delivering the money to me. As there was no option except obeying his order, I took one of my children with me and I went to out to meet him.

While I was coming back home one of the addicted young men in our area followed me to my apartment and pushed the door of my home before I got the time to close it and entered in my room. I was so scared and I started to cry and shouted loudly and my children too. But no one heard us. Hence I had to jump through the window trying to escape from him.  Unfortunately he caught me by my hand and pulled me.  Then he pushed me on the floor [making me fall]. Then he took the amount of money I just received. And while he was assaulting me and trying to take off my cloths to rape me, one of the neighbors came and rescued me, but he couldn’t snatch the money from his hand as he himself was afraid from the gangs that they may harm him.

The next day I went to the police station to report the incident. The police asked me if I know the name of the criminal. As I do not know the name of the criminal, I gave them his description. However, the police refused to investigate the case claiming I failed to come with the name of the criminal. In contrary, the police informed the gangs that I was complaining about them and since that time whenever I went out they kept chasing me.

Then I reported my problem to the UNHCR partner organization, PSTC (Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo). And the organization advised me to change my residence. However, this is my sixth place to change [I kept changing] and still I am very scared and because yet living in unsecure area [with my security in danger]. Living with all these [security] problems and suffering, still I don’t get adequate protection or a solution from the UNHCR office.

Fatna now is attending psychological counseling sessions with MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) to recover from the stresses and depression she is suffering as a result of the repeated human rights violations she was subjected to since she left her country, Eritrea. She said since the recent criminal incident she was subjected to, she is suffering from lack of sleep. But after she started the psychological counseling sessions, she has started to sleep few hours though still living with nightmare of the attempted rape that she was subjected to recently.

 Fatna added “I thank God for creating me a strong woman to withstand all these sufferings and be able to take care of my children. I wish to get a solution for my problems and live a happy and peaceful life.”

Here in Egypt many single mothers are suffering from different forms of assaults and no one is helping them. Staying for long years bearing the burden of responsibility alone has become their fate.

 Note: All names our not real to conceal the identities of the persons mentioned for their security.