She sewed hats for women’s march, now she's a domestic violence victim

Racist rhetoric on rise since murder of Eritrean girl, according to market vendor.

Sylvana Tsegai takes a selfie at the  Kuchinate, African Refugee Women’s Collective's Christmas party (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER)
Sylvana Tsegai takes a selfie at the Kuchinate, African Refugee Women’s Collective's Christmas party
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER)
Just days before 12-year-old Sylvana Tsegai was found dead in her home in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, becoming the latest victim of domestic violence, she helped with preparations for the city’s annual march marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence.
On Monday, one day after the march, Sylvana’s mother found her daughter dead in their apartment. The same day, Yara Ayub, 16, from the Maronite village of Jish in the Upper Galilee, was discovered in a dumpster three days after she had gone missing.
Police have arrested four suspects in connection with the latter case, but they are still searching for the prime suspect in Sylvana’s murder, her mother’s ex-boyfriend, Tesfabran Tesfatsion.
Sylvana was an Eritrean asylum seeker and was active in Kuchinate, (crochet in Tigrinya) the African Refugee Women’s Collective, whose members make a living crocheting baskets and hosting visitors at their studio on Hat Tzion Street in south Tel Aviv.
“The Kuchinate family is utterly devastated by the senseless and cruel murder of our youngest member Sylvana, who was just 12 years old. She would frequently arrive after school and would crochet and chat and eat with us,” the group posted on Facebook. “A beautiful, special, independent, gentle, creative soul has gone. May her dear soul rest in peace.”
“On Sunday, the International day against violence against women, we took part in the march where Sister Aziza said ‘enough is enough’ and we prayed in memory of mothers, sisters and daughters murdered by violence. Sylvana was murdered the next day,” the group added.
Commenting on the post, Sharon Cohen Tischler wrote: “Last Tuesday, Sylvana was helping us create pink hats for the March, and said that she does not believe that men will stop being violent. She then spoke of her dreams to be a fashion model, and make money so that she could be independent.... We never asked her why.”
While police originally claimed that Tsegai had not filed any complaints prior to her murder, a police spokesperson subsequently confirmed that several days prior to her death she called to complain about Tesfatsion, who had come to the apartment to collect his belongings.
“Both in that complaint and after being questioned by officers about him, the girl stated that he never used violence against her in any way,” the statement said.
Police have asked for the public’s help in locating Tesfatsion.
The Tel Aviv municipality also released a statement saying that it had not received any recent complaints from the mother or daughter. The girl’s mother was in contact with the Office for Migrant Community Assistance (Mesila) more than a year ago and was advised to file a complaint with the police; she has not been in touch since then, the statement said.
The suspect worked for three years for Yaron Levi, a fruit and vegetable vendor at HaTikva market. “He wasn’t a criminal or something,” Levi said. “He used to come and visit with his girlfriend. I would never have believed he could do something like this,” he added, saying he was shocked to see Tesfatsion’s picture in the media.
Levi also said that it’s “obvious” that crime of this type among the African migrant community does not receive the same attention from police as it does when it concerns Israelis. “It’s like that naturally, not that I am justifying it,” he remarked. “From their perspective, they can kill each other. That way, they’ll get rid of them.”
“Now it’s a reason to deport them,” he said, saying that deportation advocates manipulate incidents of this kind to paint all the migrants as criminals. “In any case, the situation is already sensitive,” he noted. He said that working in the market he gains a lot of insight into the mindset of the locals. Since Sylvana’s murder, he has heard increased chatter about deporting the migrants. According to him, this is how the vast majority of the local population feels.
Avi Patua, another market vendor immediately proved Levi’s point. “These criminals are a deadly blow to the State of Israel,” he said.
Asked whether he thinks the authorities do enough to thwart crime in the migrant community, he responded: “They could stop it by sending them away.”
“What will the police do?,” asked Tsega Bitsamlak, an Eritrean resident of the HaTikva neighborhood. She said that she and her children have experienced abuse from their Jewish neighbors. When she turned to the police, they advised her to hire a lawyer, she said. The authorities, she said, “see us [Eritreans] as trash.”
Matiewos Tesfay disagreed with this assessment. “The police are working on it. I see them working whenever there is a balagan (chaos). They come immediately and make order. They work well,” he said, expressing hope that justice will be served in the case of Sylvana’s murder too.
Tel Aviv local Shevi Arush too said it’s not relevant that the girl was Eritrean, though she opined that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the murder in the media. “Poor girl,” she said. “They suffer a lot of abuse at school, and the authorities need to open their eyes, both at school and among the social workers.”
While Arush does not think the police always invest resources in the right places, she does not think they treat different populations distinctly. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Sudanese, Eritran or Jewish. It’s all the same.”
Meanwhile Alem Bahta, one of Sylvana’s neighbors, is looking for ways to help both the family and the police. “Among my Eritrean friends, we are all talking about this [the murder] all the time,” Bahta told the Post. “We are talking about how to find the criminal and how to help the mother.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report