An African Asylum Seeker's Hellish Journey to Israel

Eritrean Escapes Homeland — Only To Find Harsh Challenges

Lily Padula

By Anonymous

Published January 28, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

I was born and raised in Eritrea, where I was fortunate to be well educated. I studied business administration in college, and after graduation I taught high school math. At that time, I began helping opponents of the Eritrean regime flee the country. My life was at risk, and it became too dangerous for me to stay in Eritrea after I learned that the authorities were aware of my activities.

On January 10, 2012, I fled my homeland to escape persecution. Little did I know the torture and abuse that lay ahead on my path.

With help, I reached Eritrea’s border with Sudan. Smugglers offered to take me to a refugee camp, but instead they transported me to someplace in the Sudanese desert and held me and others as slaves. We worked in our captors’ houses and fields all day, without a break. I tried to escape, but they caught me; as punishment, they isolated me and held me, blindfolded, in solitary confinement for a month.

Our slave masters ultimately sold us to other smugglers in the Sudanese desert, near Egypt. Our new captors told us that unless we paid them $3,000 each, they would take us to Sinai. We were threatened with death if we did not pay, but none of us had any money.

When we reached Sinai, our traffickers raised the bounty, demanding that our families pay $30,000 each. They hung us upside down and beat our backs with sticks and whips. They subjected us to electric shocks and burned us by dripping scalding-hot melted plastic on us. Each time we were tortured, our abusers would call our families and let them hear our cries.

We suffered greatly. We saw our friends die. They showed us fingers cut off corpses, and one time the severed foot of a dead man, to frighten us. I didn’t think I would survive.

Eventually my family found a way to raise $25,000, which was enough to secure my release. On July 7, 2012, my captors took me, and others, to the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers spotted us but refused us entry. We turned back, and eventually we found a different route to cross into Israel. Security forces immediately picked us up and transferred us to the Saharonim prison.

At the prison, we were told that under a new law, Eritreans would be held in detention for three years. I was so happy to be freed from Sinai, and now the Israeli authorities were putting me in jail? We were not criminals and had not done anything to anyone.

I spent 16 months in the Saharonim prison. Conditions were harsh, and guards treated us cruelly. A few other Eritreans and I went on hunger strikes to draw attention to our demands for our release. I suffered from depression, and my torture in Sinai left me with permanent scars and physical injuries.

The guards kept trying to pressure us into signing a “voluntary repatriation” form. It was clear to me that if I returned to Eritrea, I would end up either dead or in prison.

In March 2013 I filled out an asylum request form. To this day, I have not received a response.

I regained hope of being freed this past fall, when the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants told me by phone that the Supreme Court of Israel nullified the law that kept me detained for more than a year. The hotline informed me that according to the court ruling, I and the other detained asylum seekers would be released within 90 days.

Government authorities conducted short interviews with each detainee. In my interview, they asked me about myself and told me the conditions of my release. They informed me that formerly incarcerated asylum seekers would not be permitted to live or work in Tel Aviv or Eilat.

A week later I was released. I was given a bus ticket to Beersheva. From there I went to Tel Aviv, where I had friends. But since I was told I could not be in Tel Aviv, I found someone with whom I could stay, in a nearby city. Through him I was able to find a job.

I now work in a big house and do whatever is asked of me: clean, trim the trees and so on. There are other Eritreans there, and I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, earning $71 per day. So far, though, they haven’t paid me; they say they will at the end of the month, and I have to trust them.

I have been out of jail for a few weeks now. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate my freedom after what I have been through. I take nothing for granted.

What is most important to me now is paying off my debt. My family borrowed money from so many people to secure my freedom from the torture camp in Sinai, money that needs to be repaid.

For me, returning to Eritrea would be returning to hell. Someday, if the government changes and there is peace, I would be happy to go back to my family.

Israel’s new “Anti-Infiltration” Law frightens me. Last December the government used the law to establish an internment camp for asylum seekers. The possibility of facing captivity again? I honestly don’t think I could survive that.

My only wish is to remain free. Please, just leave me my freedom and let me live my life in peace.

The author shared his story with assistance from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.