Photo credit: IOM/F.KIM
I left Eritrea to live in freedom and without fear. I was born and raised during war. At that time you could always be suspected by anyone, for anything you said. We were fighting our own brothers and it was difficult to accept. We were constantly living in fear. Even to go from one place to another, I needed an authorization. I felt the deep need to live free of all these rules. In 1992, relatives advised me to leave, telling me that it would get harder afterwards.
I first thought of Italy, because of the historical links between the two countries but also because my father was there. Since I was a child, I would read Mickey Mouse or Famiglia Cristiana (Christian family) in Italian. My parents also had studied Italian.
My journey and arrival in Rome is what today would be considered as a luxurious journey - I had a visa and I arrived by plane. I will always remember my first night in the capital city. I had been sheltered by monks and when I woke up in the morning, I heard so much noise I thought there was an invasion of bees in the streets. I asked a monk about the noise. He took me to the terrace of the building and I saw a crowd and a beautiful place. The monk told me: “You are in front of the most beautiful fountain in the world, the Trevi Fountain.” That is my first memory of Rome.
After 3 months, I started to work at the markets, selling fruits and vegetables. That’s how I learnt Italian and the Roman dialect. I got to meet a lot of people and discover a new world. Religion was always on my mind. I was attracted to religion since I was 14, but my father told me to wait until I turned 18. In 2010, after years of learning, I was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church.
I already had seen my compatriots living under terrible conditions in Italy, sleeping in the streets and penniless. I also was in touch with Eritreans in Libya and I told myself that I can’t just translate what they are saying to a journalist. I have to denounce what’s going on. However, people I would meet and talk to about my compatriots would ask: “But who are you? Who do you represent?” That’s when I decided to be even more devoted and launch information campaigns. I founded the association Habeshia in order to help and assist my people.
It was widely reported that Mussie Zerai was a candidate for the 2015 Nobel Prize for Peace. In Switzerland where he resides now, he was appointed by the Swiss Church to assist Catholic Eritrean or Ethiopians in the country. He continues his fight to give Eritreans - more than 36,000 of them have reached Italian coasts so far this year – a voice. And what a voice.