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.
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.
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The protesters called on Israel to give
protection and refugee status to Eritrean asylum- seekers.
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.
“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
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
“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.”
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
“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
She said Eritreans need more support in Israel, where they are
not given social services, refugee status or the legal ability to
“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.