Europa inför rätta med hjälp av Tamirats berättelse
Varje år dör 1 500 människor på Medelhavet när de i överfulla småbåtar försöker ta sig till Europa. Deras drunkningsdöd blir ingen stor nyhet. Särskilt inte om man jämför med den massiva bevakningen av kryssningsfartyget Costa Concordias förlisning i samma hav.
De döda flyktingarna är en siffra, de omkomna turisterna individer. Först när vi slutar rabbla siffror och börjar berätta om människoöden kan vi hoppas på att väcka människors engagemang. Det har Tribunal 12 tagit fasta på när de ställer Europa till svars för hur vi behandlar de flyktingar och migranter som försöker ta sig hit.
En av dem som kommer att få sin historia berättad på Kulturhuset i Stockholm lördag 12 maj är Tamirat som flydde från Etiopien undan förföljelser för sin sexuella läggning och nu lever som papperslös i Sverige. Men redan nu kan du ta del av hans gripande berättelse här nedanför. Det är Maria Ahlsten som intervjuat Tamirat, som egentligen heter något annat, på uppdrag av Tribunal 12.
”There was a sudden clash between police and civilians in a town close to the Somali border. I didn’t have a purpose with filming. I was just curious and I had a camera. The police saw me and asked me what I was doing. They took my camera, broke it and brought me straight to jail. I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Until then, I had lived a relatively good life, at least work wise and economically. After they put me in jail my security was gone. But even before that I always had an identity problem in Ethiopia. I’m gay, but I had to pretend and hide my sexuality because it’s completely taboo in the Habeshan culture; in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Ethiopian government and our religious leaders uphold this culture. It is generally believed that homosexuals are possessed by devils. We are not seen as human beings. People call us evil spirits. So, when someone beat gay people, or even kill a homosexual person, society regard them as heroes. The killer will be blessed.
There is no protection to be found in the Ethiopian law for people like me. If I would go to the police to report that someone has beaten me because I’m gay, the police will arrest me instead of the abusers. As I would found out myself later, the prison guards will torture homosexuals, and they can kill you. According to Ethiopian law, homosexual acts are equated with rape. Being accused of being homosexual often gives five years imprisonment to both men and women. In prison, your life is in danger. It is not uncommon that gay people are beaten or shot to death by prison guards.
But I was arrested because I was filming when the police was beating civilians. The guards beat me up in prison, and tortured me. I was living with criminals and the cell was constantly dark. I had to share the bunk bed with a stranger. We could only take a shower twice a week. I counted the days and weeks.
After a while, when I was getting to know some of the other prisoners, one of the men confided to me he was in jail because he was gay. I told him I was gay too. I started to feel happy in all this misery. I was glad because I could share things with him that I had not been able to share with anyone before. He gave me hope. We became intimate friends. One day, when we thought no one was watching, we were kissing. Unfortunately, the chief guard saw us. He started to shout disgusting things at us, and he told all his colleagues that we were gay. The next five or six days was like living in hell. Each time a new guard started his shift he came to beat us up. They took turns so everyone would get a chance to kick and hit us.
One night soon after, soldiers woke us up at midnight and took us and three other men out to the yard, where a truck was waiting. At the back of the vehicle they blindfolded us, and tied our hands and feet. They drove away with us. After some time, maybe hours, we heard the engine stop. I thought: ”This is it. This is my final minute.” I was sure they would shoot us. And as they killed us I was sure they would be proud of themselves, thinking they were doing a good deed, killing devils. But the wheels of the truck were stuck in mud. The soldiers commanded us to come out and help them push the vehicle. They untied our feet and hands and took the blindfold off. One of the prisoners whispered in Amharic: “This is our last chance to live. Let us run in different directions.” So we ran. My friend and I were running in one direction and the others were running another way. We heard gunshots, but we didn’t turn around, so I don’t know what happened to the others. But my intimate friend and I got away from the soldiers. We survived.
We travelled for days in remote areas, avoiding the cities. We knew we couldn’t stay in Ethiopia. If the police found us we would get killed. We reached the Sudanese border and managed to get into Sudan. I called my mother and told her everything. She just cried and cried, and she promised that my brothers would help me to send some money. The smugglers wanted a fortune to arrange a fake Sudanese passport and an Arabic speaking assistant, who would escort me on the plane. My friend didn’t have any money and I couldn’t afford to help him escape, so I had to leave him there in Sudan. I still think of him often and wonder if he is okay. He didn’t have a mobile phone and no email address, so there is no way I can contact him.
Before, when I had been sad that I couldn’t live openly in Ethiopia, I sometimes thought I should move to South Africa, because it’s easier to be gay there. But after all this happened to me, I just wanted to travel really far, away from Africa. I sad to the smugglers I could go anywhere in Europe. They booked me on a flight with Turkish Airways to Sweden. My escort left me at the airport in Stockholm and took my fake passport. I asked a bus driver where I could go to seek for asylum. He was also an immigrant and helped to explain how I should go to the Migration Board. When I saw the Swedish flag outside the Migration Board I felt safe. I thought, finally I am far away from Ethiopia. I thought I would get humanitarian protection.
At the first meeting at the Migration Board I didn’t know anything about my rights. I was scared I would need to have an Amharic speaking interpreter. I was terrified I would have to explain to someone from Ethiopia or Eritrea that I’m gay. I could see in my imagination how this person would believe I was possessed by an evil spirit and how they would stop talking with me, and stop translating what I was saying. Luckily for me, my English is good, and the person I met at the Migration Board agreed to interview me in English. I told him that I’m gay and briefly about how I had suffered in Ethiopia. I asked him if he knew of an LGBT association in Sweden that I could get in touch with to get some support. He said of course there are associations for gay people, but before I could contact them I needed to follow the procedures of the Swedish Migration Board and take it step by step. He didn’t give me the contact details to the association, and he didn’t tell me that there are lawyers who are experts on LGBT rights. Instead, I could choose between a male or female lawyer recommended by the Migration Board. I was sent to a refugee camp in the northern part of Sweden.
At the refugee camp I was shocked to find out I had to live in the same room as people from my home country. In the whole compound, there were around 40 people from Eritrea and Ethiopia. To me, it was like being back home, everyone got to know each other and people started gossiping. I had to act straight and pretend to be someone else. Again. My lawyer was living in a city in south of Sweden, very far away. When I travelled to have a meeting with him, my neighbours proved they were extremely curious about me. I guess because I came as a single man, I didn’t flirt with the women and had a lot of integrity. When I came back from the meeting with my lawyer my neighbours at the refugee camp knew I was gay. They had opened my post from the Migration Board. The letter was in Swedish, which they didn’t understand. So they used Google Translate and typed in the Swedish words to translate the content. The worst homophobic were very aggressive. The called me ”faggot” and ”devil”. They threw out my food from the fridge. They said I wasn’t allowed to touch the kitchen utensils, the cutlery and the TV remote control. They came up with all kinds of cruelties to isolate me from the rest of the group.
Every morning, at 10 o’clock, there was a visit by staff from the Migration Board. And every morning I was standing outside our building to beg the staff to find another place for me to live. I told them I was harassed by my flatmates because of my sexuality and that I was desperate to move. They told me they couldn’t help and that there was no other place for me to stay. Later I found out that there are no separate refugee camps for LGBT people in Sweden. There must be so many people who have suffered like I did, because of this. I was living with my abusers for almost five months, before I managed to get out.
During my time at the refugee camp I got the first negative decision from the Migration Board. They said I couldn’t stay in Sweden because there is no evidence that I am gay. But how can I prove that I’m gay, when I come from a country were everyone is terrified to come out as homosexual? Maybe the Migration Board can recommend a laboratory where I can go to take some tests to prove that I’m not heterosexual? It’s ridiculous!
It was my lawyer who finally told me about RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. No one from the Migration Board did. I got a phone number from my lawyer and called a man at RFSL who was very understanding and helpful. He said the organization could help me with paying the train ticket to Stockholm so I could make a visit. I was so happy when I saw the rainbow flag outside their office. It filled my heart with a little bit of hope. When I first met a group of other gay asylum seekers I got overwhelmed. I hugged all of them [laughs]. I begged them to help me to find accommodation in Stockholm and one of them helped me. He gave me the possibility to leave the nightmare at the refugee camp.
Since I left the refugee camp, the Migration Board reduced my monthly benefit. When I lived at the camp they used to pay me 210 Euro a month (2 100 SEK). Now I get 180 Euro a month, which is 6 Euros a day. I have to pay rent, so there is nothing left for other expenses. I used to have a good job, a house and a car in Ethiopia. In Sweden, I live like a rat. I have to depend on charity. I cannot even afford the public transport. But I can meet the group of other gay asylum seekers once a week. That’s what keep my spirits up.
The Migration Board has refused to give me asylum in Sweden. In all their three refusals they have given the same weak explanations. On Monday I’m going to court with my lawyer. I think I have good enough reasons to get asylum and sufficient proof to support my case. I haven’t even thought about the possibility that the court would reject my appeal. If they would turn me down too… Well, I think I have the right to finish my own life then. I will not give the Ethiopian state the chance to kill me again.”