Hotline for Refugees and Migrants
Civil and Human Rights
Meet four incredible individuals driving some of the New Israel Fund of Canada’s projects this year and blazing trails for inclusion, for equality, and for social change: Batya Kahana Dror, Edan Ring, Ghebrehiwot Tekle, and Nisreen Alyan. Click here to read part one of their stories.
Who is Ghebrehiwot Tekle?
If you have to be an Eritrean asylum seeker in Israel, it’s good to be Ghebrehiwot Tekle (Ghere, for short). Despite the challenges and uncertainties he faces as an African in Israel, Tekle has a B1 visa, which allows him to work. He is also married, has three children and a job with Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), an organization that supports refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.
“They know the Eritrean government violates human rights. But they don’t want to check our status. I feel it’s racism”
Thoughtful and slim, Tekle is 38, and grew up on a traditional farm in Eritrea. At 12, he left his village to go to school in the city, coming home only during the summers. In university, where he studied Education, Tekle was a student activist, pressing for political reform. As a result, he was jailed and conscripted into forced labour.
In 2006, Tekle risked his life to escape Eritrea’s dictatorial regime, leaving behind his parents and five siblings. Before reaching Israel, he spent a year in a refugee camp on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, two months hiding in Sudan, a week locked in an apartment in Egypt and a single night in Sinai.
“I trust in God. I’m lucky. I became a man here. I’m a father. I’ve been able to serve my people”
He came to Israel because he read in a Sudanese newspaper that some MKs, led by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were demanding refugee status for Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. Just three months after he left the refugee camp, all of the Eritreans there were resettled in the United States.
“All of them are now U.S. citizens,” he said. “And still I am here [in Israel], crying for status.” Though he now considers coming to Israel a bad decision, he said he doesn’t regret it, “I trust in God. I’m lucky. I became a man here. I’m a father. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been able to serve my people.”
He also counts himself lucky that his journey to Israel was relatively uneventful – many refugees who’ve gone there from Sudan and Egypt were imprisoned, tortured and raped, and some killed.
What’s inspired him?
Tekle lamented that the Israeli government accepts an almost negligible number of Eritrean asylum seekers as asylum seekers. Politicians in Israel use refugees for their own political interests, he said, rather than looking for solutions, or granting them refugee status. “They play games. They know there is a genocide in Darfur. They know the Eritrean government violates human rights. But they don’t want to check our status. I feel it’s racism.”
How has he changed Israeli society?
In 2007, days after his arrival in Israel, Tekle became a de facto organizer among his fellow Eritrean asylum seekers. As his cohort connected with NGOs, media and members of government, he took an active role, hosting meetings and raising public awareness for their cause. “I became a devoted activist,” he said. He also began volunteering at HRM, doing translation and leading tours. Soon, he was offered a part time job. In the Tigriniya language, Ghebre means servant and hiwot means life. “That’s exactly what I’m doing,” he said.
Written and reported by Ruth Mason.