Sadiq is 16 years old and comes from Somalia. At the time he told this story (November 2016) he lived in Syracuse, Sicily, Italy.
I come from a small village in Somalia, near the Somali border. I lived with my mother and father and my brothers and sisters. I am in the middle. We all lived together in a typical Somali house like those in your pictures. I went to school when I was very little, five years old. Before the fighting came and I left, father worked collecting food from a warehouse and selling it at the market. My mother was at home.
The fighting started when I was seven years old, with two groups fighting in the street with guns. Two villages were fighting with one another, there was fighting all over father’s workplace because there was a lot of food there. Our house was bombed so we had to leave the house and go to another place. When the fighting started, two of my brothers ran away that day and no one has seen them since. We don’t know where they are.
So when that fighting started, father, mother, sisters and I went to another village. But every day there was fighting and my father was killed, I think he was in his workplace. And because there was fighting I had to run. I was very small, I was running but I did not know where to go, so I followed some people and I got to Jijiga in Ethiopia.
But when I reach there I don’t know where to eat or sleep so I just find somewhere on the street. People give me food. And after a month some people say they want shoe cleaning. So I see one man with a car and I say I want to help, and the man says OK and gives me some water and I clean his car and he gives me some money and I go to a shop and buy some stuff to clean shoes.
When people have seen what I have seen, it makes you older than your age. Because I was small and I did not have a mother or a father, so I had to be my own mother and father. There were people who helped me and gave me food and I did find things by myself. I worked things out. I woke up at six. People gave me breakfast, Somali people, whatever there was. I went to the market and found people who could help me. So every day I was in the market cleaning shoes and cleaning cars all day. I slept on the street for almost one year, every day I found a place to sleep and I slept there.
Then when I was eight I got sick. I found a way to call my mother. And in the New Year at that time I found a place to sleep with four other Somali people and paid money to sleep there. And I found a woman who made coffee, and I helped her. I cleaned everything and that woman gave me money for that; and I cleaned shoes and I cleaned cars and I kept all the money from cleaning. I saved as much as I could and only used a little for the food and the house. I did this for another year until I was nine years old.
After that I took that money. I could buy clothes and I took a house alone. I don’t have a father or a mother so I have to think about life. I worked in this same work for another year. When I was 10 years old my aunty came. She came to greet me and asked me what am I doing. I told her I had a house and work and she came to my house that night. I asked about my mother and she told me she was good.
… But your two brothers, no one knows what happened to them. Your house and everything in the village has gone. There is nothing left. Your mother and sister are living in another village and staying with other people.
At that time, I could not do anything for them. I am thinking what to do? Then three boys came from Somalia to Jijiga. They wanted to go to Europe. I told them: wait here, do like me, find work here.
I help them. I show them how to work like me and I let them live in my house. I don’t ask them for money because I know what it’s like for them. If I had more I would give it to them. At that time, I have three jobs, so I share the work with them so they can see how to do it. I am happy to help them. One was sixteen, one fifteen and the other ten years old. My aunty cooks for us and lives with us in the house. She cleans it and we help her. I don’t play. I am not thinking about play, I am just thinking about how to work and find food. I forget how to play.
That woman I worked for. She trusted me and so I was given another job in the market. I packed tea and coffee and spices into plastic bags and hung them up for sale in the market. It was the same with chilis and peppers. You pack it up and hang it and people buy it, also with sugar. So I helped the woman with her market stall. Then she put me in another market and opened a restaurant and I worked there cutting vegetables and cleaning up after people left. I got up early to clean and get it ready. I worked there for a long time: two years.
When I was twelve years old she took me to the big supermarket and I arranged things for her. Those boys did my other jobs. But in my last five months in Jijiga my mother called me. There were many problems with Al Shabab people. Everyone knew what was going on, everyone told one another. For example, one of my cousins killed another man, so another came and said: I saw you kill this man in my family. So then people are killing each other, and there is more and more fighting and my mother calls me and says: they want to kill you. They are trying to find you.
Because we all know each other. Because I am in that family which killed a man. And the people looking for me are from one of these groups killing each other. So I stopped work. I thought what shall I do? I didn’t go outside. I stayed at home. I went out sometimes but only for a very short time because I was afraid they would find me. And if Al Shabab found me they would also kill me. They say: if you don’t work with us we will kill you.
And it’s not just Al Shabab, there are many groups. So I stayed like that at home, thinking what to do. I told my friends what was happening and that I didn’t know what to do. So they said: OK we are going to Europe together. They helped me because I helped them in the past. I had some money because I had given my Aunty what I earned and she kept it for me. And my friends were working so they paid for me, no problem. So we went to Harar and slept there one night and then we got a car to Addis Ababa.
I had been seven years without my mother and sisters. I called my mother and told her I am in Addis. She prayed for me and she told me: God help you, I am not happy that you go from me but it’s better for you.I told her: don’t worry, just pray for me.
I stayed in Addis with friends and we left at night on a bus to Gondar, where we stayed one day. We found some people to help us because we did not want the police to see us and catch us. We slept there the night and woke early and asked where the bus was to Metema, on the Sudan Ethiopia border. When we got there we got out of the bus and walked into Sudan, because if we went in a car the police would catch us. So we slept there one night and found a car to some place before Khartoum. We walked for four days and then we asked how far it was to Khartoum and they told us eighty kilometres, too far to walk. So we found some good people who took us. They asked us: where are you from? We told them we are Somali.
We got to Khartoum and stayed there three nights, in some empty house where no one lived. Then we found a Sudanese man and told him: we are going to Libya. He asked: Are you Somali? We said: yes. He said: I will help you but you know there is fighting in Libya. I am going in a car close to Libya.
There was a Sudanese man and a Libyan man, they worked together. The Sudanese man asked the Libyan man to help us. He said: they come from a country with fighting and many problems. The Libyan man said: OK, I can help you but in Libya I cannot do anything. We said: no problem, just take us and like that we reached Libya. It took one week through the Sahara.
We stayed one month in many empty houses. Arab people helped us and afterwards we found where the capital was because we did not know where we were or where we were going. We found a car and asked them to help. He said: I will take you to Sabratha, not Tripoli. So we said: fine, and he took us there and we stayed two nights and then we found another man who asked us: where are you going?
We told him: we want to go to Europe, and he said: fine. But he kidnapped us. He took us to a house with forty people staying there. That man wanted money from me and my friends. We told him: we don’t have money. We don’t have any people to send money. And he said: if you don’t have money I will kill you. So we told him: we don’t have money so kill us. I was there eight months. It was all Somalis, forty people. The Arab man said: this country is my country. Why did you leave your country? I can do what I like with you, so give me $400. I said again I don’t have it, so what can I do, so if you want to kill me, kill me.
They brought us food in the morning. Not food, bread and water. Then they did not come again until evening. We did not have a place to go to the toilet, nowhere to shit, nothing, it was like a prison. This man had one phone. He said: call your family to send money. And they start beating you, so your family knows it is going badly. But I had no one, I did not have a number so I never called anyone. They beat me for a year and I never called anyone. They were always putting pressure on me. I did have one number and I called but they never sent money to me. So after I called I thought my life was ending and I would escape this room. So I told these people: my life is over. And then the conditions changed and we only got bread and water once a day. And I kept calling the woman and she found my mother and I talked to my mother. So mother went to the city to beg for money. She begged and she was weeping, saying: my son is dying in Libya and she got a small amount and she sent it to me.
Then they threw me out, because they were worried I might die in Libya, because I was very sick. So they took me to the seaside, to some people with a boat. They said: we don’t want this dead boy in Libya. We don’t want this boy dying here. So they got me on a boat. The boat man called his boss saying: one Somali boy is going to die today or tomorrow. So the boss says: if he is going to die today or tomorrow, throw him on the boat. He can die at sea. So I stood on the boat for two days. There was no room to sit. There was no food, so I did not want to shit or pee. God is wonderful.
Two of those boys came to Europe. One ran away. He is in Libya we left him there because we lost touch.
It is two years since I left Jijiga. I spent one year in Libya and I have been eight months in Italy. I have seen many bad things since I was little. I would like to be a mechanical engineer, or a doctor. Then I can go and help people in Somalia.
Before I arrived here, I didn’t think I would stay in Italy. I didn’t want to stay. Now I am staying because I was sick. They took me to hospital and then I was put here, so now I am going to school and it is OK. I have peace here… but later…. I think all the time about how to help my family. Everything is not as it appears to you. I look OK but I am not. I have house, food, somewhere to sleep, but my family don’t have food to eat, but if I go to Switzerland or Germany I can send money. I can do something if I go to Germany. One of my friends is in Germany. They give him 300 euros and he goes to school and he can send money to his family. If someone is a refugee here, they only give a small amount. That is why I think about leaving.
Photos of the Jijiga area in 2007/8 by Lynne Jones