Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 26th 2015 Contents B22
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, February 26, 2015
Children as young as seven are trav-
elling thousands of miles alone, across
land and sea---some are sent by their
parents who don t want them to grow
up in repressive countries such as
Eritrea. Others end up being turned
into inexperienced captains of rickety
boats crossing the Mediterranean.
We are following criss-cross tyre
marks across a dust plain. An aban-
doned shepherd s hut slides by, bleached
cow carcasses, plastic bags snagged on
stones, the rest is desert and sun and
choking hot air.
I m told that in the summer these
borderlands between Eritrea and Sudan
are fertile green, but right now the dust
spins up behind our car and hangs in
high grey plumes, before floating back
to earth as powder rain.
This barren landscape is, for some,
the start of a journey that will take
them 4,000 miles, across desert and
sea, along the world s most dangerous
To call it "a route", though, is some-
what misleading, it s really a tapestry
of routes across sub-Saharan Africa,
threading out of every country in the
region, northwards towards the
Mediterranean Sea. There are as many
starting points to the journey as there
are reasons to join it. But the one we re
travelling is becoming one of the
busiest. It s the route out of Eritrea,
Africa s most secretive state.
Migrants cross the border into Sudan,
sometimes travelling in cars and trucks,
but often simply walking, usually at
night when the air is cool and they can
hide from the police patrols.
The place they re heading for is Sha-
garab, a vast refugee camp in the middle
of this desolate place. It holds 35,000
people, nearly all of them Eritrean, and
nearly all of them using this as a staging
post before heading north towards
And it s in Shagarab Camp that I
come across something remarkable.
Behind a metal gate, where security
guards are checking people in, is a group
of around 70 children sitting on benches
in the shade. What s remarkable is that
these children have travelled to Shagarab
Camp alone. No parents, no family.
And some are as young as seven years
They sit and listen as a UNHCR offi-
cial, Sarah Elliot, explains the dangers
of the route they re travelling.
"How many of you walked here?"
One hand goes up, then another,
there s some giggling, then everyone
raises a hand.
"OK, where are you trying to get
The children look at each other. Some
of the girls are wearing colourful head-
scarves which they ve wrapped across
their mouths against the dust.
"Go on, where? Don t be shy," smiles
Elliot. She s asked the same question
many times before, and already knows
"Europe," a little boy finally shouts
"England," shouts another.
Elliot nods and smiles some more.
"OK, I understand, but do you know
how long it will take?"
None of the children respond, they
just fidget and wait for an answer.
"It can take many months," says
Elliot, "and do you know how danger-
ous it is?"
Some of the children stare at the
floor, others whisper to each other.
"Because that s what I m going to
explain to you today," continues Elliot,
"just how dangerous this route is."
And on she goes, telling boys and
girls, many of whom have barely
reached their teens, about the dead
bodies in the Libyan desert, about the
people traffickers who might steal their
money, about the men who kidnap
children, about how many migrants
drown attempting to cross the Mediter-
ranean Sea---4,000 last year, and already
this year, the numbers are on a scale
never seen before.
The flight of children from Eritrea
is an indication of just how oppressive
the regime there has become. Older
boys and men in the camp describe
compulsory open-ended military serv-
ice lasting from 10 to 30 years, including
year after a year of forced labour on
farms or in factories.
Parents are so desperate to spare their
children this fate that they are taking
the agonising decision to tell them to
flee---despite reports of people being
shot on sight as they attempt to cross
"Do the children listen to your warn-
ings?" I ask Elliot later. "Does it put
any of them off?"
She screws her face and looks off
across the desert. "Not as much as I d
like. I mean, maybe some. But by the
time they arrive here, most of them
already have a plan, and the plan is to
get to Europe."
It s winter in Sicily and a cone of
snow has settled over the tip of Mount
Etna. Below, on a blowy beach, is a boy
called Rudi. He s wearing shades with
indigo lenses and Elvis rims, and his
hair is knotted in junior Rasta twists.
Rudi fiddles with his headphones.
"What are you listening to?" I ask.
He stares at me, a little confused,
"Nothing," he says, and then shows me
that his headphones aren t plugged into
"It s just for the look," he says, and
saunters off in his oversize trainers and
his hang-low jeans.
Continues on Page B23
The lone seven-year-olds leaving
home and country behind
Thousands of migrants make their way across the treacherous seas to Europe in boats like these in the hope
of finding a better life.
Africa's child migrants
"How many of you walked here?"
she asks. One hand goes up, then
another, there's some giggling,
then everyone raises a hand.
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