Eritreans in Israel Protest against the Dictatorship in their Homeland
By Sigal Rozen
“Hello to everyone, to all who are here.
We’ve gathered here today, the Eritrean asylum-seekers, to make our voices heard in front of the Eritrean embassy. We, the Eritreans here, do not want to support the dictatorial rule in Eritrea and we are saying “enough!” to the regime. We ask, on behalf of all the people murdered by ISIS and drowned in the sea, that the Eritrean dictatorial regime did not want the Eritreans to mourn. Instead this regime recruits girls and boys into the military, for an indefinite time, for life. We are here today to resist and say “enough to the dictator!” and “enough to Afawerki!” We ask the Eritrean ambassador, if he can, to come and join us and be part of this protest and we’ll be happy. Thank you all. Next year we’ll be in the gorgeous, good and democratic Asmara, our capital. Thank you to everyone here, you are welcome to return home with us [once the country is free]. Next year in Asmara!”
I wrote down these words of Amanuel Yemane after the protest in front of the Eritrean embassy last week. If you know Hebrew, I recommend that you watch the video in which he utters his powerful message in his hopeful and excitement-infused voice. Amanuel is one of 34,000 Eritreans who are seeking, but haven’t received, asylum in Israel. Amanuel is also one of the thousands of Eritrean activists in Israel who invest most of their times, energy and meager salaries in an effort to move the world into action that will end to the brutal dictatorship of Isayas Afewerki and will allow them to return to their beloved homeland Eritrea.
Even though Israeli authorities abuse asylum-seekers and refuse to grant them their rights as refugees, most of the protests of Eritreans in Israel are directed against the dictator Afewerki, whose rule they’ve fled. The last protest was held against the regime’s prohibition on holding the traditional mourning ceremonies for the hundreds of Eritreans who drowned in the Mediterranean and for an unknown number of Eritreans who were beheaded by ISIS in Libya.
In the last eight years, since we’ve succeeded with great effort to bring about the release of the first Eritrean asylum-seekers from immigration detention in Israel, I took part in countless protests of the community. Most Eritreans did not know the meaning of the word “protest” before they managed to escape their oppressive homeland. Time and time again I am amazed by the ability of the community to organize protests with multiple articulate speakers, signs and t-shirts that convey their message so well to the public and the media.
The protests of Eritreans in Israel are impressive not only because Eritreans have no experience in organizing protests. It also takes a great deal of courage to show up for a protest in front of the Eritrean embassy, the arm of the Eritrean dictator in Israel, knowing full well that each and every participant in the protest in filmed and documented by the embassy. Protesting also requires hope – hope that Israel will not deport the protesters to Eritrea as long as the dictatorship that collected their photos still rules.
So much hope can be heard in Amanuel’s voice when he invites us in Hebrew to join in back home, “next year in Asmara”. Let us hope so. Let’s also hope that until Amanuel can return home, the Israeli government will stop abusing and detaining him and his friends and start respecting the Refugee Convention, which it helped formulate and signed.