LAMPEDUSA — Two brothers, both with the same dream: escaping the violence and chaos of Eritrea. One has already spent nine years livingthat dream; the other still hasn’t been rescued from the sea that swallowed him last Thursday.
Desperation and grief are in the eyes and voice of Adel, who emigrated to Sweden nine years ago. After a long journey from Stockholm to Lampedusa, with three transit stops along the way, he discovered that he almost certainly will never be able to hug his brother Abrahm again.
“It’s too much, I don’t know what else to say,” he explains in perfect English. “I was the one who paid for his trip: I sent the money that smuggled him here.”
One thousand, six hundred dollars was the price of freedom for the 24-year-old carpenter who dreamed of leaving behind misery in Eritrea to work in a sawmill in Sweden. “I paid for it because I knew he needed to get out of there,” explains Adel. “But I didn’t want him to get on that trawler. The last time that I heard from him he was in Libya and when I heard there would be 500 passengers on board I knew it was too dangerous. I discouraged him from getting on, but he didn’t want to listen to me. ‘I want a family and a job, like you have,’ he told me.”
Adel, who works as a nurse and is married with two young children, first learned about the tragedy on the news. He tried to call his brother over and over again, but there was no answer. “I decided to come and search for him myself.”
He traveled from Stockholm to Riga, from Riga to Rome, then onto Palermo and finally, to Lampedusa. He then began the ordeal of looking through photo after photo of the bodies — but there was no sign of Abrahm.
“When I couldn’t find him among the victims in the airport hangar, I hoped that maybe he would be among the survivors at the reception center.”
Stronger than me
Adel walked among his compatriots, showing everyone the photo of his brother: “‘Abrahm, Abrahm,’ some of the young men called out and I collapsed," he said. "They told me that they had traveled together and that then, after the fire, they lost sight of him.”
Still Adel refuses to give up his search. Yesterday, he spent the entire afternoon in the island’s reception center with the photo of his brother close to his chest. “If I think about it, I understand that there’s no hope anymore,” he admits. “But he is stronger than I am. I’m not leaving until I find him, alive or dead.”
Adel knows all too well the pain of leaving, of illegal immigration, and even of prisons. “The first time I escaped, I was 28, and I spent two months in Malta, but then I was sent back home and spent a year in prison.” A second attempt going through Sudan opened the gates to salvation for him.
For the past nine years he has lived in Sweden legally, but the nightmare of war hasn’t left him. He doesn’t want his face to be photographed. He fears for his life and for his family. “My parents, my sister and my youngest brother still live in Eritrea. My other five brothers are around Europe.” Two of them are in Sweden, “Not in the same house, but nearby. Two are in England and one is in Italy." Which cities? "Sorry, but I don’t want to say because I’m scared that they could be discovered by guerilla fighters from my homeland.”
He speaks slowly, his voice strained. “I’m tired, really tired.”
It’s obvious that his exhaustion isn’t just physical, but psychological too. “I think I’ve suffered a lot, but this time it’s too much.” On his neck he wears a chain with a cross on it. “I’m a Protestant Christian. In my family, we’re all Christians but we’re split between Protestants and Catholics. Even my brother Abrahm had faith. He was a good boy.”
From his use of the past tense, it’s clear Adel has understood what his heart can’t and won’t yet accept.