Hope turning grim
The road to Dewhan, the capital city of Irob woreda in the Tigray Regional State, is rough. It is one of the few roads that are not asphalt within the Tigray region. It is a town that has existed as a result of the mercy of Christian missionaries from abroad who had connected to the area on religious grounds.
There are little infrastructures used for those like water wells a charity organization built some years back. All the billboards are those belonging to charity organizations warning against migration. There are few hotels, and almost all belong inside partially finished buildings.
For a young person living in the area, there is little to do and it is no wonder, from here and all around it, many young adolescent people of Irob escape its shortcomings only to disappear in the waters of the vast Mediterranean Sea that has swallowed thousands of vulnerable Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants before them. And this unfortunate and tragic tale has continued.
Last week, 16 young Irob teenagers and some in their 20s became the latest victims. There were no bodies recovered and families held memorials with nothing to bury.
"We tell these young people not to aim to be rich by looking at exceptional successes. They should also study the dangers. They should also look for opportunities inward and within Ethiopia and find fulfillment, not just financial success," Berhaneyesus Demerew, the catholic cardinal told The Reporter earlier this week.
According to the United Nations migration agency, "more than 150 people drowned near Libya, while 145 were rescued", on July 25th. Among the 16 victims, 10 were women, some as young as 14.
"I educated my children on a 500 birr wage. Now, my children have their degrees, they do not want to be employed on a 3,000 birr wage. We keep telling them, they do not have to be rich to be fulfilled, but that is all they want, to be rich and emulate the success of someone they know from a far or what they see on television. That is unfortunate. Many have died chasing that dream", an elderly man told The Reporter.
Libya, one of the most fractured and dangerous nations, since the downfall of Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi has been used as a pathway to many looking to escape to a perceived “better life” in Europe. Despite the dangers and resources spent to discourage the journey, many still attempt it.
Those who make the journey through Libya often travel in overcrowded and unsafe vessels.
Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), almost half as many as the 1,425 registered in 2018.
Ledia Tesfu, from Alitena is readying herself to the journey with a group of friends. "What do I have here in Alitena. There are no jobs, nothing to do and I often feel like I am a dead person walking," she said. "If I live or die, it would not matter. I would rather take risks than live a life of dead-end. I am following in my brothers’ footsteps," she told The Reporter.
Her brother was among the group presumed to have die in the latest tragedy. "He was a driver in Adama and he came back after living there for five years. He was happy and content and all of a sudden, he became vulnerable and moved back here. He had nothing to do and felt depressed and escaped. Now we think he is dead."
Like Ledia and others, there are many families that have children abroad and who tried to move to Europe and never to be heard from. On a bus to Dewhan, a three-hour ride through Zalanbessa, Tesfu Fesseha said, there are many people with similar stories to each other. His own sister escaped and he has not heard about her well-being since 2015. Their mother died, not knowing her daughter's fate. "That probably killed her," he said.
With a population of about 40,000 at its last count from more than a decade ago, the Irob people have added fear. While the new peace and engagement with Eritrea is being celebrated and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is set to agree on the Algiers Accord of 2000, a good part of Irob is set to become part of Eritrea, further dividing the dwindling population and putting hardship to it.
"That would be the beginning of the end for us. We are small to begin with. Why make us distinct further. None of us, want to join a different nation. We are Ethiopians and we want to remain Ethiopians", Tesfu added.
Ed’s Note: Samuel Getachew is visiting the Irob Wereda, including Alitena and Dewhan and will continue his coverage next week.