Protestors in Tel Aviv via Physicians for Human Rights on

What it Means to be an African Migrant Deported From Israel

An Eritrean asylum seeker tells us about life after deportation from Israel and what he'd wished he'd done instead.

Meles Ghirmay remembers every moment leading up to his deportation from Israel.

"I was hopeful and thinking that they would give me a visa," the Eritrean asylum seeker says softly over the phone from Kampala, Uganda.

"On the spot, they told me I have to leave and I was given no option. Just sign and go," Ghirmay recalls. A week later, he was on a flight to Uganda.

"I don't have any documents to be here," he says about his new home. "When I got here, I was escorted by an airport worker and my documents were taken. I don't know what they did with it." All assurances given by the Israeli government were false, he says. "They promised they would take care of me and it was nothing like that—I don't have any hope here."

The Asylum Line

Every morning at 8 o'clock, Israeli immigration officials in Tel Aviv are met by long lines of African migrants, mostly teenage and middle age men from Sudan and Eritrea waiting for word on their refugee claims in Israel. Ghirmay was one of the thousands who would religiously join the lines at 4 a.m. outside the embassy in Tel Aviv when his schedule as a store clerk permitted. While some asylum seekers spent countless hours online waiting to get assistance, many eventually gave up and resorted to sitting demoralized on sidewalks nearby gazing at the line.

Ghirmay spent ten years living in Tel Aviv. He left Eritrea at age 21 to flee the brutal military regime there and its indefinite military conscription. He came to Israel thinking that it was aware of Eritrea's human rights abuses and would freely accept him. While waiting in line with his documents folded under his arm, food and water were the last thing on his mind. Going for food, he feared, would lose his position in the line. Often he would wait in line until eventually the doors to the embassy would close without warning. It was the norm he says. Asylum seekers would walk away, disappointed, only to repeat the process the following day.

After countless days in line, it was finally his turn to request a visa. In the office he was surrounded by officers who peppered him with questions about his status and his purpose in Israel. They told him his claims were fabricated—that he wasn't in Israel because of persecution but for economic benefit. Ghirmay says that in the moment he was confused and nervous and didn't know what to do because the accusations weren't accurate. After an officer repeatedly told him in Hebrew that he must go, Ghirmay said he was given no chance to consider his options. He felt pressured and opted for the offer of $3,500 in cash and a one-way ticket to a place of uncertainty.

He is one of an estimated 4,000 migrants who chose deportation to Kampala, Uganda, and Rwanda since 2013 with a $3,500 grant and promised "a life of happiness and employment." It has turned out to be anything but.

Eritrean protestors in Tel AvivPhoto via Physicians For Human Rights

Israel's Deportation Machine

In recent days, the Israeli government has been zigzagging on its decision to deport or imprison its unwanted residence. Recently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a plan with the U.N.'s High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate 16,000 migrants to western nations. After making the plan public, he scrapped it because right-wing politicians feared that thousands of migrants would still remain in Israel.

At the top of the year, parliament issued an order that asylum seekers choose indefinite imprisonment or accept a $3,500 grant and a one-way ticket to Uganda or Rwanda. Both countries in the past have denied claims that they accepted a proposal from Israel to take in hundreds of Africans Israel wishes to deport. Just days after Israel canceled its plans with UNHCR, Uganda announced that it may take in 500 asylum seekers.

Israel's deportation plans have sparked a backlash of ongoing protests and discussions. Rights groups have challenged the deportation order and brought it to Israel's Supreme court which issued a temporary injunction which allowed petitioners to fight against the plans. Groups like Hotline For Refugees and Eritrean Community Center are outspoken about the stance they take on this issue.

"Once migrants opt for voluntary departure, their lives are in constant danger," Dror Sadot, the spokesperson for Hotline for Refugees and Migrants says. "They are exposed to arrest and so they need to take cover at all times and hide because it's like another asylum journey."

The African Refugee Development Center estimates that there are approximately 40,000 Africans in Israel who considers themselves asylum seekers. Israel contends that they are economic migrants looking for opportunities. Only eight claims were approved between 2009 and 2016 according to Israel's Interior Ministry.

Eritrean protestors in Tel AvivPhoto via Physicians for Human Rights

Life as a Deportee

It has been three months since Ghirmay has been living in Kampala. With no job and fear of possible arrest, he spends most of his time in his one-room flat he rents for 200 Ugandan Shillings per month. His daily activities are at times repetitive and nevertheless, predictable. He's up at 7a.m., buys breakfast then stays in bed throughout the day. He has become frugal with his spending and fears how rapidly his grant will finish. Sometimes, he goes to bed famished.

"I don't know how to survive here and the government doesn't even know who I am or where I am staying," Ghirmay said. "I fled from my country to save my life but until today, I don't save my life. No work. No hope. No nothing."

Making friends for Ghirmay is a challenge because of the language barrier. He said he misses his friends and family. He spends most of his alone time reminiscing about a flourishing job he once had as a clerk at a supermarket in Tel Aviv for two years. It came to a halt when his once kind and caring boss took notice of the "Infiltrator's Law," issued by the Knesset, Israel's parliament which paved the way for forceful deportation.

"The good thing is that I saved my money from work and that's what I'm now using with the balance I received from the government," Ghirmay said.

He implores migrants who are stuck in limbo to choose indefinite imprisonment instead. "Learn from my mistake, there's nothing here," Ghirmay said. "No one gives you food or job and the language is a challenge. People here are poor and they are also looking for help from me," he warned.

Now, he worries about his family he left behind in Eritrea. They haven't spoken since he fled to avoid military conscription. "They don't know where I am and what I'm going through," he said. "They're still thinking I'm in Israel and it's not good for them to know because they will worry."

Regardless of the status-quo, Ghirmay is planning his next move to Europe and is hopeful of finding happiness and safety. With little information of getting from Point A to Point B, he relies on word-of-mouth for help and guidance.

"I hope to reach there, God knows," Ghirmay said followed by a sigh. "If I don't reach, that is life. If I reach, thanks to God."

News Brief
Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images.

Sudanese Government to Hand Over Former President Omar al-Bashir to the ICC

Sudan's Sovereign Council has agreed to hand over former president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide and war crimes.

According to the BBC, Sudan's current transitional government or Sovereign Council, has agreed to hand over former president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of genocide and war crimes.

Last year, al-Bashir was forced to step down after Sudan's historic uprising which saw months of protests and pressure from the military eventually force the statesman out of office. Al-Bashir has been in prison under heavy guard in the capital of Khartoum since then.

Keep reading...
People protest the Muslim travel ban outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, USA on June 26, 2018. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Immigrants from Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan & More 'Virtually Blocked' Under Trump's Extended Travel Ban

Trump has officially extended his travel ban to include six new countries, and it's just as bad as expected.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump moved forward with plans to add several new countries to the travel ban list.

The new extension of the ban—which comes three years after the initial ban, which blocked entry into the US for people from several majority Muslim populations—places heavy restrictions on citizens from several African nations, including Nigeria, Tanzania, Sudan, and Eritrea. Other countries added include Myanmar and the Eastern European country of Kyrgyzstan.

According to The New York Times, the move will "virtually block" immigration from Myanmar—a country currently facing a genocide against its Muslim population—Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and a strategic trading partner, as well as Eritrea and Kyrgyzstan. While Tanzania and Sudan will be subject to limitations around participation in the the diversity visa lottery, which grants green cards.

Most countries on the list have substantial Muslim populations, reflecting Trump's well-documented Islamophobic views. His ban on several African countries are also in-line with derogatory comments he's made about African nations in the past. In 2018, he infamously referred to African nations as "shitholes." With the inclusion of six new countries, the travel ban now consists of a total of 13 countries.

Keep reading...
Courtesy of Universal Music Group.

In Conversation with Daniel Kaluuya and Melina Matsoukas: 'This isn't a Black Bonnie and Clyde film—our stories are singular, they're ours.'

'Queen and Slim' lands in South Africa.

Melina Matsoukas and Daniel Kaluuya are everything their surroundings at the opulent Saxon Hotel are not—down-to-earth and even comedic at times. Despite the harsh lights and cameras constantly in their faces, they joke around and make the space inviting. They're also eager to know and pronounce the names of everyone they meet correctly. "It's Rufaro with an 'R'? Is that how you say it?" Kaluuya asks me as he shakes my hand.

Matsoukas, a two-time Grammy award winning director and Kaluuya, an A-list actor who's starred in massive titles including Black Panther and Get Out, have every reason to be boastful about their achievements and yet instead, they're relatable.

The duo is in South Africa to promote their recent film Queen Slim which is hitting theaters today and follows the eventful lives of a Black couple on the run after killing a police officer. It's a film steeped in complexity and layered themes to do with racism, police brutality and of course Black love.

We caught up with both of them to talk about just what it took from each of them to bring the powerful story to the big screen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading...
Installation view of Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara © The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2020, photography by Anna-Marie Kellen.

The Met's New Exhibition Celebrates the Rich Artistic History of the Sahel Region

'Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara' is an enxtensive look into the artistic past of the West African region.

West Africa's Sahel region has a long and rich history of artistic expression. In fact, pieces from the area, which spans present-day Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, date all the way back to the first millennium. Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, a new exhibition showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, dives into this history to share an expansive introduction to those who might be unfamiliar with the Sahel's artistic traditions.

"The Western Sahel has always been a part of the history of African art that has been especially rich, and one of the things that I wanted to do with this exhibition, that hasn't done before, is show one of the works of visual art...and present them within the framework of the great states that historians have written about that developed in this region," curator Alisa LaGamma tells Okayafrica. She worked with an extensive team of researchers and curators from across the globe, including Yaëlle Biro, to bring the collection of over 200 pieces to one of New York City's most prestigious art institutions.

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox