"We fled Eritrea to save our lives"

חולם לחזור לאריתריאה. דוויט דמוז במסיבת עיתונאים בתל אביב (צילום: אקטיבסטילס)

.Hello, my name is Dawit, and I am a refugee living in Israel from Eritrea

It is difficult to explain to Israelis about our problems. The dictatorial regime in Eritrea uses endless military service as a way to control the citizens. But how to explain this to Israelis who also go to the military? The Eritrean experience is nothing like that in Israel

In Eritrea, people go to the army not to serve or protect the country. Not at all

Instead, we go to the army to be slaves. If your commander wants a bigger house, he makes his soldiers build it. If the general wants to be richer, he will make his soldiers work in factories or farm his fields, not to better the country, but to fill his pockets with money. Even women soldiers have to do whatever their commanders say, including sexual services. What kind of military forces women to have sex with their commanders? This is the dictatorship in Eritrea

Imagine yourself in this situation. Don't you think that after years and years just one time you might ask a question—when will I be free? When will I see my family again? When can I go study and when can I get married

Asking such questions in Eritrea is a crime and you will automatically be put on a black list. The dictatorship's security forces will hunt you down and put you in prison.

Prison in Eritrea is not like anything you have ever seen in Israel. Eritrean prisons are shipping containers buried under ground in the middle of the desert. Twenty people living in the intense heat without enough food. In many places, they would only open the door of the container once in two weeks. If someone died from the conditions or from torture, their body stays in the container until the door is opened

No human being wants to find themselves in detention in Eritrea. So, when your name is put on that black list, you really have no other choice but to save your life and run

Eritreans flee Eritrea with the goal of staying alive. After fleeing, many of my Eritrean brothers and sisters were sold to Bedouin criminal gangs in the Sinai desert. Right now they are hostages, tied together by metal chains, whipped, beaten, hung upside down, and raped, in the Sinai desert, all to make them pay the ransom money faster. There are more than 5,000 Sinai survivors in Israel. They have no help—no medical services, no welfare, they are left alone to survive by themselves

And what is Israel's response to our claims for asylum? Just this week, the Ministry of Interior rejected 17 Eritrean asylum applications—the Israeli government said that fleeing military service is not sufficient to get refugee status. But around the world, fleeing the cruel Eritrean military is a clear reason to be a refugee. But not in Israel

Today's World Refugee Day is dedicated to the 1,900 asylum seekers in Israeli prisons under the Prevention of Infiltration Law. This is not the first time many of these people were in prison. Many of them have experienced the horror of prison in Eritrea. Yet, now they are in prison again. These people—men, women, and children—are in Israeli prisons for the next three years

What are you going to do over the next three years? Many of you will work, will study, will travel. But not the refugees—1,900 of us are stuck inside prison cells, behind bars, behind barbed wire and guard towers. The next three years of their lives have been taken from them

Last  World Refugee Day, we demanded that the Israeli government release all refugees from prison. Putting us in prison and trying to deport us is not the solution

I hope that next year on World Refugee Day, there are no refugees in Israel's prisons and that we have been given a real chance to apply for asylum in a fair and just way in Israel

But what I hope more than anything is that next year on World Refugee Day I will be back in Eritrea, no longer a refugee, because a democratic and peaceful solution has been found for my country. Every Eritrean in Israel wants to go home, we just need your help until we can

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