Iftu Omar’s Journey, Yemen
15-year-old Iftu Omar* escaped Ethiopia because he feared for his life after his father was killed. He dreamt of a life without persecution and decided to flee to Yemen by boat. When asked about the danger he faced during the journey, his face had no expression and he said:
It was a nightmare that you cannot wake up from, and it will never leave me
“My nightmare began when I arrived in Obock, Djibouti. I met with the smuggler, who was to take me to Yemen. He took me to a place where I met others like me, traveling to Yemen. In total we were 57. Among us were one woman and two children. Naively, I thought that the boat would be big enough to fit us all.
I was wrong.
When the smuggler came with the boat, I noticed it could only fit 20 to 30 people. I could not imagine how we all get in. The smuggler told us that we had to sit in a specific position to save space. We sat with our legs together towards our chest, and put all our weight on the tip of our feet. Some people found it hard, and the smuggler forced them to sit in that position.
The boat engine started, and we moved towards the open sea at night. A few minutes later, the boat stopped moving and a smuggler shouted at us ‘you have to stay here’, and jumped into the sea. I did not know what was going on. I looked around and all I saw was the open sea. At that moment, I feared for my life. I had no air to breathe because the place was overcrowded, my legs started to feel numb from the way I was sitting. We had neither food nor water.
I was afraid and now, I regretted leaving home.
We stayed in the boat until the morning, until the smuggler and another person came with another boat. They pulled our boat back to Djibouti’s shore. There we stayed for two days on the beach with no food and water. The woman decided to stay in Djibouti. She was afraid we might be abandoned at sea again. I was afraid. I was at an unknown place with unknown people, and I did not know for how long I would remain here.
With no food and water I was unable to carry my own weight. I was exhausted.
The next day the smuggler came back with the same boat. He changed the engine, which had broken down in the middle of the sea. He shouted ‘come in if you want to go to Yemen’, so I boarded and sat the same way as before. I was afraid that it would take us a long time to reach Yemen because my legs would not bear the pain of sitting this way for long time. Luckily, the trip only took two hours.
When we finally reached the shore, the smuggler shouted ‘you have to get out now!’ I jumped into the sea. Some people did not understand him and stayed on the boat. I saw the smuggler pushing people off his boat, which caused one of the kids to almost drown in front of me. I freaked out. I did not know what to do. I simply froze. Thankfully, an elderly man went to help and carried the child to the shore. When I reached the shore I was very exhausted, but I was glad that I reached Yemen safely.
Suddenly, a group of men appeared. They started to divide us into groups. My group was forced to get in a truck and they drove us far away from the coast. At that moment I did not understand what happened to me. I was scared and confused.
I fled my country to find freedom – only to find myself in a more horrific situation.
The truck stopped. An angry looking man came to us and yelled ‘get down’. We got down. I realized that I was in the middle of a desert. I was scared. After giving us food and water, the man came to us and started hitting us with black wire and asked us to give him phone numbers of our family. Some people refused, so he tied their legs together and ran with a motorcycle over their legs. They screamed so hard that I started to feel their pain. I was so scared that I said to myself ‘this is my end, I am going to die’.
For 15 days I was tortured until I finally gave him my mother’s number. Once she sent the ransom he released me. He let me go with three other people. We walked for hours in the desert with neither food nor water. In the end we reached a mosque and stayed there for three days.
Now, I am staying at a center for determining my refugee status. I am recovering from my journey. I am looking towards a better future, free from fear and persecution.
*Name changed for protection reasons