Protesters: Refugee status in Israel, democracy in Eritrea

03/11/2011 18:31

Eritreans also say recent turmoil in Middle East gives hope that popular uprising could topple regime in Asmara.


Eritreans in Israel say recent turmoil in the Middle East gives them hope that a popular uprising could topple the regime in their capital, Asmara.

More than a hundred Eritrean migrants braved a downpour on Friday to protest outside the Eritrean Embassy in Ramat Gan, demanding that the regime, led by President Isaias Afewerki, step down.
The protesters called on Israel to give protection and refugee status to Eritrean asylum- seekers.

They also demanded that Israel and the international community take steps to fight the so-called “torture camps” in the Sinai, where Beduin smuggling gangs reportedly beat and rape migrants until their families send ransom money.

Chanting “We need justice!” and “End the dictatorship!” – among other slogans – the protesters on Friday carried Eritrean and Israeli flags and signs stating that they are seeking protection, and fleeing torture in Eritrea and Sinai.

They held caricatures of Afewerki, and a photo of him meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One poster read “Free All Political Prisoners,” and showed the portraits of nearly three dozen people reportedly missing in the country and feared taken prisoner by the regime.

“Today’s demonstration is to demand that the Eritrean dictator step down from power” said Haile Mengistab, the 31-year-old founder of the Eritrean Asylum Seekers in Israel organization.

He claimed that agents working for the Eritrean government are “interfering with the Eritrean community in Israel to make them fight each other. So we need to condemn the Eritrean dictator in Israel.”

Mengistab linked the fate of the Eritrean community to the outcome of Libya’s bloody revolution.

“We know that when Gaddafi steps down, Eritrea will be free,” he said. “This is because Gaddafi supports the regime. These events are [convincing] Eritrean refugees who were in doubt that they need to start protesting the regime in Eritrea and demand that it steps down. The government is afraid there will be an uprising, and they are causing destabilization within the army to prevent this.”

When asked about the effect the situation in the Middle East is having on the Eritrean community in Israel, Shahar Shoham, head of the Migrants and Persons with No Civil Status Department at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said she was optimistic.

“There is no doubt that the revolutions and the atmosphere today in the Middle East are giving them a feeling that there is the possibility to rebel,” Shoham said. “The community here in Israel is united and wants its voice to be heard as much as possible – not only to help those who are here – but also those who remain in Eritrea.”

Shoham said Friday’s protest was directed to “demand democracy in Eritrea, status as refugees in Israel and international interference to stop the torture that is going on in Sinai.”

She said Eritreans need more support in Israel, where they are not given social services, refugee status or the legal ability to work.

“Israel must recognize them as refugees, and give them access to health services,” Shoham said.

Friday’s protest came a day after PHR-Israel reported that an Eritrean migrant said the IDF returned 67 African migrants to Sinai two weeks ago – an allegation that if true, could represent a violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, of which Israel is a signatory.

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