Why Eritrean Asylum Seekers Come to Israel

Israel is home to roughly sixty thousand African Asylum Seekers. Following last year’s deportations of those from South Sudan and the Congo, the asylum seekers who remained are nearly all from Eritrea and North Sudan. In the first part of this story, The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky interviewed Yonatan Gher, the Director of Amnesty International, Israel division and Siom Domoz, a central figure in the refugee freedom movement in Israel. Here, Domoz speaks about why refugees even come to Israel from Eritrea.

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Story Transcript

LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: Israel is home to roughly 60,000 African asylum seekers. Following last years’ deportations of those from South Sudan and the Congo, the asylum seekers who remained are nearly all from Eritrea and North Sudan.

However, Isreal has no real process for asylum seekers to get the status of a refugee, the result of the government’s avoidance of granting refugee status to the millions of Palestinians that were expelled or fled during the 1948 war and after.

African asylum seekers are therefore stuck in a legal limbo, where they’re held under collective protection, meaning the situation in their home countries is so dire, Israel doesn’t deport them as a group. However, since their individual refugee claims are not examined by Israeli authorities, they’re not granted any rights.

This situation led to the historic strike and protests that swept Israel this week, as The Real News reported.

In the first part of this story, The Real News interviewed Yonatan Gher, the Director of Amnesty International, Israel Division, and Siom Domoz, a central figure in the refugee freedom movement in Israel. Here Domoz speaks to The Real News about why refugees even come to Israel from Eritrea.

SIOM DOMOZ, DAYCARE OWNER, ACTIVIST, AND ASYLUM SEEKER: People, when they are listening, just ’cause mostly what they see in the media and what we know about refugee from the past, it’s about all people or people who are running from war, people who are running from a massive genocide [snip]

When we are talking about Eritreans specifically, as I am from Eritrea, and if you [incompr.] most [incompr.] all over the world now are young people. As a young person, it’s really hard [incompr.] to live in that country. You’re in and out of prison, any–like, in and out of prison as it’s like going to the pub. You know? You go in and out of prison every time. But what I’m saying is there is torture, of course. You know, you go there, you get tortured.

TARACHANSKY: Have you been in prison?

DOMOZ: I’ve been in and out of prison–I can’t count the numbers, but a lot of times. Probably I would say, like, for about four years I was in and out of prison.

Sometimes they would say, like, you are a spy. Sometimes they would say you are making some kind of illegal things. They will give you any kind of excuse. But they just didn’t want you to be in the streets. So you either have to be in the military or in prison.

In 1991 [incompr.] got the independence from Ethiopia, which was colonized for about 40, 50 years from before that. From ’91 until now, we have only this government. And if you see the history from ’91 to ’97, it was quite a democratic country. We had a lot of media, I mean, free press. We had import, export business were open.

In ’97, ’98 we get war with Ethiopia. And that ends around 2000 to 2001, in that time.

From there, the country starts collapsing. The people’s mind was start getting the outer enemy, which was Ethiopia at that time, and we were not [being able to] follow what’s happening inside.

Then suddenly, out of blue, a lot of ministers were imprisoned, medias. We have a lot of print media, press. They were all banned. And now we have one newspaper, which is run by the government. We have one TV station, which is run by the government. And, of course, we have one radio station, which is run by the government.

So this government started, like, from the people in the beginning, and it had the full support of the people, and slowly, slowly, slowly it ended up to where it is now. There is a coupon what family, how many family you are, and how many breads you need. Even if you have the money, you cannot buy it.

TARACHANSKY: Like the Soviet Union.

DOMOZ: Something like that. But there I think–I mean, don’t get me wrong, but probably they might have some kind of ideology. You know, they were doing it with reasoning, or they might have ideas. But this is to just make the people not to think farther. The more they control you in the domestic stuff, the more they put you talking about bread, water, and electricity, the more you stop thinking about the big stuff.

I ran out from Eritrea ’cause it was not safe for my life. I got to Sudan and it got worse. You know, just life was all–life was unstable there. And it was hard at that time for me to go through Libya and to go to Europe somehow. I don’t know. That’s what people were doing before that. But that was closed, too. That was really hard.

Suddenly, just heard people are going to Israel. I never knew anything about Israel except from the Bible.

I will not talk like–I will not say, like, all the Eritreans don’t want to be–. I don’t want to be here. I mean, like, me personally, if they want me, if somehow they wanted me [incompr.] or whatever they call [incompr.] nationally, no. I have a country. I have a country that I want to be. I have a people. I have people. I have soil that I miss. That’s not what we are here for.

We are here because we are in a problem. We have trouble back there. Somebody’s pointing a gun and opening these big underground prisons to put me in. And so I’m just asking them [incompr.] please just keep me here for some time until I fix my home. The first day you start thinking of leaving home, you’re opposing something. You’re opposing something. There is something that have to be changed. That’s why you live in country. If you could change it, you could have changed it then. If not, you’re running because you don’t have an opportunity to do it.

[snip] Because some people say, like, you know, politics is not for me. That’s [incompr.] way to run out of activism. It’s like, oh, it’s politics and I don’t want to be part of them. Sorry, but politics is life. That’s your life. You cannot live without politics as it is right now. I’m talking about other how the world is functioning now. You just cannot work without politics. You can’t run away from–even if you ran away from it, it will come to you. You run out of here [incompr.] because of the political situation, you came here, you came to–you went to Sudan, and the political situation in Sudan hunted you, and you were here. And now here the political situation is hunting you. Say, in the last two years things changed, just like that.

TARACHANSKY: Why?

DOMOZ: Because people got fed up. People got fed up. And they say, like, that’s it. You know? That’s it. And so the people started demonstrating without masks. People start doing–like I said, going to demonstration and talking in medias without masks [incompr.] without covers, because that’s–there is nothing that can happen more than what happened. We reached a point where they just don’t feel fear, just don’t feel fear, ’cause there is nothing to fear. Whatever you were fearing of happening already happened.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.