Testimony of Meskerem Tesfay, refugee from Eritrea, at the audience with Pope Francis

My name is Meskerem, I am from Eritrea.

I left my country when I was a girl, I was 15 years old, with my sister Masa who was 23. I have never been to school. My sister had to flee because she was called up for military service. In Eritrea you don't know when it ends. My heartbroken mother sent us away to save our lives, she gave us all the money from home and her gold.

We walked a long way at night to Sudan. Then my sister organised the journey to Libya. We crossed the Sahara in a pick-up truck, we were many, men and women. If someone fell down, the pick-up wouldn't stop. Some were kidnapped on the way.

Before entering Libya they put us in a shed full of people, there was an unbearable smell. We were prisoners. My sister started bargaining to get out, they saw she had gold and took it. Eventually we managed to get out and started to work a bit. At that time we were able to talk to our mother and I was happy. One day my sister didn't come back home and I haven't known anything about her since then. I have been looking for her everywhere, in vain.

I used to live at a lady's house like a slave, one day I ran away and joined other Eritreans. They took me to a shed full of people 'Ghem ghem bari' which means 'before the sea'.

Those who paid would leave in groups. There I met Suleiman, my future husband. If you don't pay, you don't leave. The leaders of the shed took me to a house to earn money for the trip. I stayed there for six months and suffered all kinds of violence and 'disrespect'. I could no longer stand, they took me back to the shed to leave. There I met Suleiman again and he took pity on me and started to protect me. Once we embarked we were eleven hours in the sea, a Libyan coast guard boat arrived and took us back. We were imprisoned again in Bem Kasher in Tripoli. We were there eleven months. We were waiting for UNHCR to come and register us. Suleiman and I got married in the camp and my daughter was born in the camp. One day I got a phone call from Italy and they told me I had been placed in the Humanitarian Corridors. At first I didn't believe them. Then they started asking me for my documents, my husband's name and my daughter's name on the second call. At that moment I felt as if an angel was taking me from the earth and flying me across the sea out of hell. I couldn't sleep any more, I thought, are we really going to leave? It seemed impossible. Then the UNHCR called us and then it seemed more real to me.

I was very happy, but even on the plane I was afraid, I thought they would let me off before we left. My hell in Libya ended after ten years. I would love it if those who were left behind also felt my joy. Now I am pregnant and expecting my second child, we are very happy because my daughter lives here, she goes to school, she will not experience what I have experienced. Now I am happily pregnant. I can never thank you enough, my heart is full of joy.