Forced to be a Soldier in This Military Dictatorship Was an “Existence in Hell”

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Featured, Newsletters

Meet Berihun, Survivor from Eritrea

Berihun describes his daily life as a “quest for survival”. Eritrea is a country in East Africa where the enjoyment of rights and freedoms are severely curtailed. Chaos has replaced rule of law.

Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a report accusing Eritrea’s government of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service and forced labor, and indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials is widespread.

Military service is mandatory and when Berihun completed high school he was forced to enlist for active service for four years. “The training methods of the military are sadistic. The higher the death toll of soldiers in training, the more decorated our commander became” says Berihun. “We were beaten, fed contaminated food, exposed to the scorching heat of the Eritrean desert. They would pour milk and sugar on your body so that flies and vermin attacked you.”

Verbal abuse, degradation and confinement in enclosed metal containers exposed to the heat were normal practices of punishment and provided entertainment for the military leaders, “We were tied up in helicopter position and were then beaten and spat on”. Hygiene and health conditions were deplorable in the training camps; malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea were rampant. Berihun contracted malaria.

Having survived the vicious training conditions, his next call of duty was forced labor, “We were made to build houses for high level officials – we were slaves for the military. My life didn’t belong to me.”

After several years of enduring abuse by the military dictatorship and refusing to partake in the killings of other soldiers, Berihun’s family feared for their son’s survival and quietly and carefully helped him flee the country.

Like so many of PTV’s survivors, Berihun has endured torture and human rights abuse by his own government.  As a consequence, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He frequently has panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, chronic insomnia and intense flashbacks where he feels like he is reliving his abuse.

Under the supervision of a PTV’s Clinical Director, Berihun is receiving intense therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His PTV social worker is helping Berihun write his resume and is teaching him how to look for work while he waits for the US government to give him work authorization — a process that can take 6-8 months. PTV also linked him with a pro-bono attorney to help him with the complicated asylum process.

Today, Berihun is slowly learning how to increase his social circles and diversify his activities in his new community here in Los Angeles. He is steadily gaining back his confidence and the determination to build a new life.

Will you help a torture survivor like Berihun with a donation to PTV’s life-saving work?

The name, image and identifying characteristics of some clients may be changed to protect client confidentiality and the safety of family and friends that still live in the client’s country of origin.