On the Horn of Africa the England-sized country Eritrea is no war zone. But from a population of about 4.5 million the number of refugees who risk the dangerous crossing to Europe is the second-largest after Syrians. About 5,000 each month (UN estimate), flee Eritrea and set out on the world’s deadliest migrant trail across the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. They run away from a dictatorship that is targeting its own population with torture – including sexual torture – mass surveillance and indefinite forced military service which amounts almost to slavery.
“Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country (…) In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers”, the UN report describes the refugees’ dire perspectives.
At an exhibition – in a safe place many countries away from Eritrea, Sudan and Libya – I try to understand the desperation of those young Eritrean adults who have braved the terrible trek and, for today’s open-house visitors, have visualized their odyssey with packing paper, cardboard, thread and coloured crayons on a large green wall in a German refugee accommodation. After a while I turn my back to the illustration of their past experience and join them in the sunny yard for a very special coffee ceremony.