Women Refugees: Our Journey Into the Unknow
March is declared as women’s month and women’s achievements and contributions to history and society are celebrated worldwide. This year MEWC is dedicating the month for women refugees, and creating a space for them to share their stories. Our aim with this project is to showcase the resilience and survival of what it means to be a woman refugee, and impact the perceptions of the media and the public about them.
My parents were born in Eritrea which was an Italian colony but due to circumstances both migrated to Ethiopia with their parents in the 1940s when they were both young. Both my parents studied in Ethiopia and my mother qualified as a nurse and my father as a civil engineer and he actually taught at the University in Addis Ababa. My mother taught and worked at Tekur Ambessa Hospital.
I was born in Addis Ababa Ethiopia and not long after my birth the military government headed by Mengistu Hailemariam (Derg Regime) took over in Ethiopia. The regime was against intellectuals which it termed as petit burgeois along with further persecution of Eritreans as a result of the war for independence. My parents felt like outsiders in a land that they had grown up in and as a result my father fled in 1975 to the UK, and my mother and I fled in 1977 to be reunited with my dad in 1978. My father was one of the lucky ones as many of his Eritrean colleagues at the University were killed by the Derg.
Therefore this was the second time my parents had to endure upheaval in their lifetime. The late 1970s saw the winter of discontent in the UK and it was a difficult time to be a refugee as there was no jobs for the nationals in itself. My father agitated by lack of employment in the UK thought the idea of being on welfare demeaning and as a result found a job as a University Lecturer in Benghazi, Libya and in 1979 we moved again.
During this upheaval my mother ensured the stability of the family and the idea of normality in very challenging conditions. We all also had to endure in fitting into a new country, culture and learning a new language. During this time an extra addition came into the family as my brother was born in Libya.
This impacted on me in a number of ways as it meant I changed schools a number of times and did not have the luxury of keeping in touch or cementing long term relationships with people. It also meant that I had to learn new languages all in a short space of time which was in itself linguistically confusing as well as missing school in my formative years. My years in Libya also gave me the opportunity to interact with many different cultures and opened me up to understanding the challenges that other people face.
As I grew older I tried to put my own experiences into context and understand why we were at war. The Eritrean war for Independence was what impacted my life during the years I was growing up and everyone was looking forward to see an Independent Eritrea which is at peace so we could all go back to our homes.
The end of the war and independence for Eritrea 25 years on has not resulted in the aspirations and dreams that our families fought for but instead we are still living in exile. It is therefore, only half a victory as my parents along with countless other Eritreans looked forward to help in the rebuilding and healing of Eritrea. This dream or hope has for now temporarily been deferred until Eritrea is a country that is governed by the rule of law, justice and democracy the very ideals for which many paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives including members of my extended family.
I joined Network of Eritrean Women in 2014, as I believe that without the voices of Eritrean women there can be no peace and stability. It has also enabled me to share and understand the stories of Eritrean women and the burden that they have shouldered and continue to do so. I believe that by ensuring the proper training, skills and empowering Eritrean women we can have real change and it is those women who endured life as freedom fighters, home carers, breadwinners and kept the Eritrean family intact during these times that I hold as an inspiration. It is also this that gives me the motivation to continue fighting until the rights of all Eritreans are upheld and the contribution of Eritrean women is fully acknowledged and integrated into the society.
I also participate in other spheres of the Eritrean opposition and feel that the voice of women is lacking and the level of participation is low. However, it is important that as women we raise our voices in all avenues that are open to us. It is important that we challenge the status quo and that we as women are fully integrated into the peace process for Eritrea.