An Eritrean woman who made the perilous boat journey from Libya to Italy has called on the United Nations to tackle African dictatorships to stop people from putting their lives at risk.
Hundreds of migrants died on Sunday when their boat capsized on the way to Europe, an incident described by Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat as ”possibly… the biggest tragedy to have ever taken place in the Mediterranean”.
Sam Abraham was 16 years old when she was rescued at sea while making the crossing, and in 2007 her younger brother died while attempting the same journey.
At the age of 15, Ms Abraham made the decision to flee Eritrea to escape the war with Ethiopia.
Ms Abraham first went to Sudan where she stayed for a year, before making her way through the desert to Libya.
In Libya she and 17 others combined their resources to buy a small boat in which to sail to Italy.
”In our case we didn’t trust [the people smugglers] so we decided to just form our own group,” she told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine.
”The captain would go free, he would not pay because he had the skills, and 17 people would put in money,” she said.
She said the Eritrean captain ”was taught how to sail by looking at the moon and the sun”.
The Libyan who sold the group the boat taught the captain how to use the onboard compass instead.
”He couldn’t figure it out, after 16 hours we were lost, we had no idea where we were and so we just hovered around the ocean going to wherever the wind was taking us,” Ms Abraham said.
”We had no idea whether we were going to survive, whether someone was going to find us or not.”
After 30 hours at sea the group was rescued by Italians and taken to a refugee camp.
Ms Abraham married an Australian in 2009 but had to flee the relationship when her husband became abusive.
She now runs several businesses, including a life, business and executive coaching service and a technology company.
She also founded a dating service for Ethiopians and Eritreans and people who are attracted to those nationalities.
Having lived and worked in Australia for a number of years, Ms Abraham said she could see both sides of the refugee issue.
”For me living in a western country I see the problem why we can’t accept all the foreigners, and from being a foreigner myself and being in that situation myself I understand why people are risking their lives,” she said.
She said people would continue to flee Africa as long as dictatorships were allowed to stand.
”Life is extremely hard there,” Ms Abraham said.
She said the world needed to find a way to ”stop the dictatorships, so that people… [don’t] put their lives at risk to get away”.
”I think it’s work for the UN, work for the EU and other humanitarian organisations.”