By Stefania Summermatter, back from Ethiopia swissinfo.ch
Fleeing a repressive regime at home, thousands of young Eritreans cross the frontier with Ethiopia every month. It’s the first stage on the way to Europe. swissinfo.ch talked to these refugees, some of whom have dreams of reaching Switzerland.
Mebrathon has agreed to meet me in a park on the edge of the city. The taxi makes its way through the throng of construction workers and beggars holding out their hands for a few birr. With its three million inhabitants, Addis Ababa is undergoing a construction boom.
Old neighbourhoods are giving way to hotels, residences and large stores. At 2,330 metres above sea level, the Ethiopian capital reflects the hopes for prosperity of a whole people, 30% of whom live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
For the Eritrean refugees, Addis is a foreign city, sometimes a hostile one, a place of passage and waiting. The telephone rings. It’s Mebrathon. “It would be better to meet in a car park. There are too many people here. I don’t feel safe.”
A native of Eritrea, Mebrathon is 39 and has a lost look. He speaks in an undertone. “I arrived in Ethiopia a year-and-a-half ago, but I am leaving the day after tomorrow. I can’t stand it any more, waiting around.”
He already has his rucksack packed – a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, a Bible and some money. A people smuggler is going to get him into Sudan and another into Libya. There he will wait for a boat to cross the sea to Italy. The whole journey will take months.