I was born on 27 November 1987 in Asmara and grew up with my four siblings. My mother died in 1996. In the same year, my father was arrested and imprisoned without explanation. After my mother had died, my grandmother on the mother's side took care of us and I had to help her. After she also died in 2001, my grandmother on the father's side came to us. She comes from a village. So I had to assist her and could not go to school. In 2003 I had to interrupt schooling.
I did very badly in Eritrea. Twice a week we had to attend military training for two to three hours in school. Sometimes we did a long march or had training in the school. Schoolgirls were also brought to Gahtelay, where it is really hot and where you can die from thirst. Two of my classmates died there.
Especially during the war, almost all teenage students were conscripted compulsorily and taken to Sawa and to the frontline. Some were killed in action, some suffered injuries and are now disabled. Some also came back and were allowed to finish school. May 24 is the day of liberation. This day is popularly celebrated. On television it was shown that all teenagers celebrate independence and performed well drilled exercises. Three months before the independence celebration, teenagers were therefore taken from school. Whoever did anything wrong was beaten. Once, even the parents protested against it. They said that their children were not allowed to attend school. Mothers bravely demonstrated although they were not allowed to. They said:
"Our girls are kept from their education. So they will be regarded badly in society. Therefore they should continue school and should be left to study again. If they have to practise something similar [to military training], then it should only on a voluntary basis."
Because the mothers had demonstrated, they were regarded as opponents of independence. Some of them were arrested. There is no freedom of speech. There is no religious freedom either. Especially for women the situation is difficult. Some were taken forcefully to Sawa for basic training. There they were treated like slaves and also raped. Christians became pregnant from Muslims and vice versa. Some were disowned by their families. The women could hardly endure all this. So some killed themselves, others their child, and some became crazy. Those who can live in Eritrea without problems belong to families of executives or people who have a lot of money. The children of the rulers, of the generals, of the officials and of other high-ranking people, are protected from conscription. All others must die in the war. In my eyes, this is not correct. All this has deterred and scared me.
Because I had interrupted school [to help at home], I wasn't allowed back into school again. Instead, I faced being forced to undertake national service. Some teenagers were even recruited forcefully on the street. So the time came that I would have been called up for national service. I was clear in my mind that I didn't want to do it for several reasons. One is that I am softhearted by nature. I was also educated religiously so that it would be a sin for me to participate in war. Furthermore I am against war on principle. I don't know at all why war is waged. Who dies and who's in a safe place? The rulers, the members of their families and their children are in a safe place. The others must die. Is there a meaningful war at all? War results in dead people and poverty. The children suffer from it.
Another reason is that two of my siblings had been called up for the war and we didn't ever get any message from them. Another reason was that my father was arrested without any explanation. They took him when we were not at home. Later the soldiers came once again in order to search the house. Then I asked them: “Why did you arrest him? Where is my father?” Instead of answering me, I was beaten. So far, we don't know where our father remains.
So I was in a difficult situation because of the threat of conscription. A friend of my father promised to help me to get out of the country. I was able to go with him to Sudan in the year 2003. I didn't remain long in Sudan, just for one or two months. I don't feel well since I came to Germany. I live in a small village, Seeheim-Jugenheim, near Darmstadt. I have difficulties with the social welfare office. I am not allowed to visit my friends or family. I had applied to be resettled in new accommodation. It was also agreed that I could move to relatives. But my application was finally rejected. Now, I am often not in the camp. Therefore, welfare services have been reduced several times.
Ruta Yosef-Tedla was interviewed on 2 June 2004. Translation by Axel Heinemann. The German version was published in: Connection e.V. (editor) Offenbach, Germany: Eritrea: Kriegsdienstverweigerung und Desertion, November 2004.