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 about all four of their stories.
What does his work entail?
Though his main job at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants is translating for Eritrean refugees who come in for help with their status or visa, Ghebrehiwot Tekle, known as Ghere, is an interpreter of far more than language.
Because he’s lived in Israel for 11 years, Ghere interprets Israeli culture and behaviour for the Eritrean refugees he sees at Hotline. He writes Facebook posts and makes YouTube videos that keep this community up-to-date on Israeli issues.
Ghere himself was tortured as a political prisoner in Eritrea before escaping, and he often recognizes signs that refugees have been tortured or sexually abused – common occurrences in Sinai for many Eritrean refugees en route to Israel.
He also interprets Eritrean culture and behaviour for Hotline volunteers and staff.
“Politicians feel we are a threat to the Jewish identity of the country”
“In the West, if someone avoids your eyes…when you talk to him, you think he is weird,” says Ghere. “But for us, it’s a sign of humility.” Explaining cultural cues like these goes a long way towards improving communication between Hotline staff and refugees.
Ghere also runs a weekly Refugee Status Determination clinic and coordinates its volunteers.
Whose lives does he impact?
In Ghere’s ideal world, the Israeli government would fairly process all refugees’ requests for asylum. Those qualified to stay would study, work and become productive members of Israeli society. Israelis would welcome them.
In the meantime, Ghere himself welcomes the many refugees who come to Hotline, speaking with them and translating for them as they wait to be interviewed by staff.
What adversaries does he come up against?
The Israeli government has no policy regarding refugees, and it doesn’t process the vast majority of asylum requests. Moreover, many politicians manipulate refugee issues for political gain. While Ghere encounters Israelis like the young Hotline volunteers who he says work “with full devotion and full hearts,” newspaper headlines often highlight sentiments from Israelis who want the refugees tossed out of Israel.
“Jewish culture, from its very beginnings, stresses helping the stranger”
The government fears a refugee policy could encourage Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, Ghere says, or encourage other African refugees to come there. “The politicians feel we are a threat to the Jewish identity of the country.”
Who are his allies?
Many members of Knesset support Hotline’s work, such as MKs from parties like Meretz, Labor and Yesh Atid. He also gets support from the courts, which have prevented the government from deporting the refugees.
In addition, “We find much support from the public, from doctors, social workers, diplomats and from the Jewish community all over the world,” Ghere says. He added: “Jewish culture, from its very beginnings, stresses helping the stranger.”
Written and reported by Ruth Mason.