Note: The name has been changed, but the facts have not.
Warning: This story contains potentially traumatizing descriptions of violence.
Since its independence in 1993, Eritrea has gained international notoriety for its heavily controlled borders, militarized society, and suppression of speech and media. The UN estimates that hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled. (BBC Country Profile, 2018).
Solomon is one of those who escaped his home country, where he worked as an elementary school teacher in the capital city, Asmara. Solomon Is warm and kind, but also a fierce advocate for himself and others, a trait not valued under a repressive regime.
In 2014, Solomon was arrested by Eritrean government officers and forced into a shipping container prison with other detainees. Whenever he asked why, his captors dodged the question or gave vague responses.
Over the next few weeks, Solomon was hit and threatened, wrists and ankles tied behind his back, while interrogators demanded a confession. Ultimately, they were unable to hold any charge against him, but still did not free him.
About one month later, Solomon was transferred to an institution and enslaved as a laborer. The abuse there ranged from physical – he was hit with a rifle butt for working too slowly – to psychological – he was tasked with jobs like filling a 200-liter container using only a thimble-sized cup.
On New Year's Eve, while the guards were distracted by celebration, Solomon escaped. Running for his life and dodging gunfire, he fled to the surrounding brush, where he spent nights until making his way to his mother’s village. Security agents couldn’t find him there, so they interrogated his mother.
Solomon knew he was unsafe and had no future in Eritrea. He obtained a travel paper that allowed him into the Gash-Barka region, then crossed the border into Sudan. The grueling journey had only just begun, as he made his way from Ethiopia to Brazil, then through South America and Central America.
In August 2015, after reaching his final safe destination in the U.S., Solomon received a call that clarified all that he suffered back home. Apparently, two teachers spying for the Eritrean regime at the school reported that the principal, plus Solomon and other teachers, may sympathize with the political opposition, based on a radio station they listened to. Solomon also learned that his colleague, the principal, had found asylum in South Africa.
With help from LCSNW’s Safe Route Immigration program, Solomon secured asylum status in Portland in December 2016 and is now able to share his story, which may have ended differently without his bravery and staunch self-advocacy.