Under the early morning sun in the most northern region of Ethiopia a motley group of Eritrean men, women and children arrive dusty and tired at the end of a journey – and at the start of another.
After crossing the border under cover of darkness (leaving Eritrea without authorisation is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail), they are found by Ethiopian soldiers and taken to Adinbried – a compound of modest buildings at one of the 12 so-called “entry points” dotted along this barren 910-kilometre border. This is where their long asylum process will begin.
“It took us four days travelling from Asmara,” a 31-year-old man tells IRIN of his trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.”
With him are another three men, three women, six girls and four small boys. The smuggler who guided them charged $2,500 each.
“He was good,” the man says. “He showed us the safe paths, and helped carry the children on his shoulders. He didn’t ask for more money like some do.”
He says they carried very little because of the distance and because they didn’t want to betray their intentions to Eritrean soldiers.