The young woman whose picture appears above is Kasanesh Yeshinah.
She is 24 years old.
She was born in a village in the Gondar region of Ethiopia.
She has been living in Israel since she was 13, when she illegally crossed the border from Egypt.
Last November, she was told in writing that she had to leave Israel within 14 days or she would be deported, back to Ethiopia. She’s still here, and she has a lawyer, but she says she has no legal defense that would prevent her deportation should the Israeli authorities act.
She would like to stay in Israel. It’s where she’s lived for the second half of her young life thus far. But she has been told there is very little prospect of her being allowed to do so. If she’s not deported, there is zero chance of her application for refugee status here being approved in the next seven years, her lawyer has told her. She thinks her best prospect of avoiding a forced return to Ethiopia lies in being sponsored by a citizen of Canada or Germany to move there.
She does not claim her life would be in danger were she returned to Ethiopia, but she would face being married off to a man to whom she is engaged and whom she has never met.
The marriage was arranged by her parents… when she was four years old. She was supposed to get married when she turned 12.
To avoid that fate, she fled Ethiopia to Sudan with an aunt when she was 11 — leaving behind her parents and a family that now numbers eight brothers and sisters. That aunt promised to take good care of her and make sure she got an education. Instead, she was made to work as a servant and was abused.
The aunt then decided that they should try to get to Israel. En route, however, her aunt ran out of money and, Yeshinah says quite calmly, sold her to a Bedouin human trafficking gang in the Egyptian Sinai.
Such gangs are widely reported to carry out the most inhumane activities. I preferred not to ask Yeshinah what, if anything, she had endured. She said, again without drama, that she saw some terrible things.
Her aunt, meanwhile, was captured by Egyptian police and sent back to Sudan.
Aged 13, in February 2008, Yeshinah managed to flee her captors, and, together with other groups of African migrants, crossed through what was then the fairly porous border fence into Israel, and found her way to an Israeli army base.
The army took her to central Israel and left her there. She was arrested sleeping rough on the street and spent her first year in Israel in a children’s prison. It was chaotic, she says; thousands of Africans were making their way into Israel at that time, and the authorities were finding it hard to cope.
When the facility was ordered closed, foster parents were found for her, and they treated her well. She learned Hebrew. She studied hard.
She won a coveted place at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School and Youth Village near Kfar Tavor in the lower Galilee (notable alumni include Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon, poet Haim Gouri, and comedian Eli Yatzpan). She was awarded a scholarship to cover its fees.
I tried to not let things that happened affect me
She graduated with a full bagrut (matriculation) and was accepted to study fashion design at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (notable alumni include author and Palmach commander Netiva Ben-Yehuda, artists Nachum Gutman and Yaakov Agam, industrial designer Ron Arad, and TV presenter Yaron London). She worked every spare hour to keep herself financially afloat. She completed her BA there this summer.
Asked how she’s managed to thrive from such difficult origins, she says, quietly, a little embarrassed at the compliment, “I tried to not let things that happened affect me.”
I heard about Yeshinah from another student at Bezalel. I said I’d be pleased to meet her. And when she came in to our office and sat with me and my assistant on Monday, I said I could write up her story — just one of who knows how many? — and maybe that would be helpful in some way.
She said, yes, and thank you.
I’ve tried to write this dispassionately. But I think it’s deeply troubling that a truly remarkable young woman who has achieved so much when faced with such immense obstacles still finds herself rejected here. So many people in this country did so much to give her a chance, which she grabbed with both hands, and yet here she is, this skilled, motivated, self-reliant, Hebrew-speaking graduate who’s lived half her life here, with a document kicking her out.
That can’t be right.