AP — Some 200 Eritrean asylum seekers gathered outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday to protest their country’s ambassador to Israel, saying he sent people to beat them for speaking out against the African dictatorship.
Blutus Iyasu, an organizer with the group United Eritreans for Justice, said the ambassador’s representatives have attacked, harassed and threatened them in south Tel Aviv, creating a climate of fear and division in the beleaguered community.
“They are trying to crush the spirit of standing up against the government,” said Iyasu, noting they were targeted because of their work to promote democracy in their home country.
“We are saying that this embassy is not representing us,” Iyasu said. “I am showing that I am against the government in Eritrea.”
Eritreans make up the majority of the 35,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. They say they fled danger and persecution from a country with forced lifetime military conscription in slavery-like conditions. Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the asylum seekers fear death if they were to return.
In Israel, they face an uncertain future as the state has been trying to negotiate a way to deport them. But despite the struggle to stay, many say they enjoy the types of freedoms they never could have had had at home — namely the right to protest.
Thousands have taken to the streets to protest previous government plans to expel them and have successfully lobbied many local supporters. Some have hoped to use their base in Israel as a platform to call for reform in Eritrea.
Most of Monday’s demonstrators were bused in from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and came prepared with signs bearing slogans in English, Hebrew and Tigrinya, Eritrea’s most common language. As the morning progressed, demonstrators began chanting: “Eritrean embassy is not my embassy,” and “we need protection.”
The Eritrean embassy had no comment.