“My name is Merhawit and I am the mother to twin baby boys.
I would like to share with you the terrifying story of their birth, on a jam-packed boat in the Mediterranean Sea…
I’m 26 years old and from Eritrea. I left my country after serving compulsory military service for 3 years. Everyone has to do it. We have no choice and it has no end. We serve in the army our whole lives, from when we are still children ourselves, and it is unbearable.
I can not even tell you the bad things that happen.
After three years I could not take it any more and I escaped. But I was caught and sent to prison. Prison is even worse than the army (which was also like a prison). I was in that dark, underground prison for 5 months.
After I was released I fell pregnant with my twins. It was at this point that I knew there was no future for me and my unborn babies in Eritrea. I couldn’t stay and force them to grow up to this life. I had to try for something better.
Me and my husband paid all of our family’s savings to a smuggler to be taken across the border to Sudan. In the army you are not even paid enough to buy a packet of cigarettes, so it was very hard for us to save, but we paid more than $3000 for this crossing.
It was our only hope.
My actions came at a price to my family that I left behind. I had deserted the army and illegally left my country. This caused problems for my parents, my two sisters and my brother who were visited by the police and nearly imprisoned too. Thankfully they had enough money to bribe the police. I only found this out much later…
I never told them I was leaving. I never said goodbye. I couldn’t. I knew they would cry, they would try to stop me, and the guilt I felt was overwhelming, but the fear of a life in Eritrea was stronger than anything.
In Sudan me and my husband were faced with a devastating choice. We needed $5,000 EACH to continue our journey to Libya and there was no way we would be able to make this money in time, before the babies came. We worked every hour of the day and night until we eventually had enough for me to go.
I was so scared to continue alone, into the unknown, but I was even more scared for the future of my babies, and my love for them forced me onwards in my journey. The smugglers squeezed me into the back of a truck with 40 others and we crossed the Sahara desert to the Libyan coast.
We had no food and no water. I didn’t eat for 12 days but I didn’t feel hungry, just desperately thirsty. The smugglers made all of us share one bottle of water a day. They put petrol in it so you could only drink a little bit at a time, to stop us from gulping it down in desperate thirst. I thought I was going to die in that truck but I made it to the sea, 8 months pregnant.
Here, on the Libyan coast, I slept on the floor on a huge warehouse with many many other people. I had not seen a doctor for my entire pregnancy. The only water we had was very dirty. I didn’t know what would be better, to drink it and help my desperate thirst, or not to drink it because it was so unclean. Finally we were given some food here, pasta. We all ate from one plate. We were so hungry we burnt our hands on the food, within seconds it was gone.
One morning it was finally my turn and I was packed onto oldest, scariest looking boat I have ever seen. I can’t swim. We got on with no food and no water, and any belongings we had left were thrown overboard to make more space for other passengers. It was too full for me to sit down. My body was heavy and tired, everything hurt.
Many people were crying but I just felt numb, I had to keep moving forward. It had to get better than this. It couldn’t get worse.
But then it did.
We had been out at sea for two days when the contractions started. At first I tried to hold it in, but before long I could not help but scream in pain. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to stop them coming, but I had to push. I was so so scared. Some of the women on the boat held my hand and stroked my hair. They helped me give birth to my boys. The men didn’t know where to look!
The boys were so tiny. I had no towel, nothing to wrap them in, nothing at all. We continued to float aimlessly in the sea as I held my new babies in my arms, totally helpless, praying for a miracle, praying to be saved.
Finally we spotted the boat. We were rescued just in time.
They took me and my boys to hospital in Palermo. They were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and hypothermia and I was suffering from anemia, but we were alive and safe. The relief I felt was overwhelming.
We are still here, in Palermo. The boys are rapidly recovering and growing. The doctors tell me that all three of us very close to death and that our recovery is a miracle, the fastest they have ever seen of premature babies like mine.
I thank God every day.
But our journey is not over. Every night I lie awake wondering what will happen next. When will I see my husband again? When will he meet his sons? Where do I go now? What do I do?
I still feel so vulnerable. My life is in limbo. But I have hope. I believe that this is the ultimate test of my strength, but I am doing it. I have survived, I am strong. I will keep going, I will do anything, I am determined to give my boys the life they deserve.”