The Community Relations Council (CRC) generally faces a challenging decision of what stand or action to take, particularly when it involves Israel. The Federation’s mission is to unite our community and there often are varying perspectives on what position we should take and there are also numerous facts and considerations which may not be known to the public. We seek guidance from our national associations such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish Federations of North America, but often they face similar challenges on how to best handle complex matters.
Just before Passover, as we start our celebration of our own freedom, fought hard for and won after many tribulations, I want to share with you a true story about a young man and what we have been doing to try to help him. Since December, single male Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers residing in Israel have been at risk. Israeli authorities began issuing deportation notices which begin in March 2018. One such single male Eritrean seeking asylum, Amanuel Germasion, has a connection to our community. The CRC determined that assisting him personally was the most effective action we could take. A statement about our position on this matter would have minimal impact, but supporting Amanuel may change the course of his life and his family’s in a positive way.
Amanuel is the brother of Sam Germasion, a dedicated CNA at the Campus of the Jewish Home, who received the outstanding nursing award for his service to the residents in 2017. Sam also was a refugee from Eritrea, but was able to legally come to the US in 2014 after his wife obtained a visa. Both Sam and Amanuel fled Eritrea in order to escape forced and prolonged army service without pay. The service in the Eritrean army is effectively a form of forced servitude and can last for decades. It often includes acts of torture and detention, as was the case for Amanuel. Additionally, Amanuel was prevented, under penalty of torture from practicing his religion, a form of Orthodox Christianity.
Amanuel’s situation is much more precarious as he is single and among those at risk of deportation. Israel’s solution is to provide the asylum seekers with $3,500 when they leave the country and will reportedly pay the receiving government $5,000. Unfortunately, the primary countries accepting the asylum seekers are Uganda and Rwanda. Neither country is secure or safe for them due to extensive violence (which has been documented) and limited potential for a sustainable income. Sam personally attested to these conditions. Asylum seekers are also often robbed once they arrive since it is known that they have been given funds from Israel.
Overall, this is a dire situation, and our CRC is working with experts locally, nationally, and in Israel to help. We are grateful for connections we have made through Marielle Macher (Community Justice Project), Professor Jill Family (Widener Law), and Rachel Rutter (HIAS Pennsylvania), all three were panelists at our fall Cardozo program on immigration, DACA, and refugees. They and their connections have provided expertise, which has helped shape our support and open doors for Amanuel to receive the guidance through a challenging process.
Professor Jill Family connected us with Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir, Senior Lecturer of Immigration Law from the College of Law and Business, Israel, and a Fellow at Harvard Law School as well as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute. She manages the Migrants' Rights clinic which is an academic program that seeks to educate the future human rights lawyers of Israel through providing free legal aid to migrants. Dr. Kritzman-Amir then introduced us to Larry Tobin from The Shapiro Foundation, a Boston based foundation focused on improving the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations: children, refugees and immigrants. It operates throughout the US, as well as Israel, Greece, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Liberia. We are grateful for everyone’s support and guidance.
Our initial goal is to prevent Amanuel’s deportation from Israel. As of March 7, HIAS has helped Amanuel file for asylum in Israel, prepare letters of argument against his deportation, and work to coordinate a hearing on his behalf. This is significant because Amanuel would not have been able to hire private legal counsel to assist him with this matter and would not have been able to navigate the system on his own. Of course Amanuel has come to our attention because Sam is a resident of our community and works at the Jewish Home. But there are so many others in Israel who do not receive the help they need. We are too small and too far to try to do more for all of them, but with your help, we can support those who are equipped to help these asylum seekers in Israel.
Update: Amanuel had his hearing and will learn on April 8 if his visa will be renewed or denied.
Major Update: On April 2, we were briefly relieved and related when it was announced that Israel reached a deal with the UN to send nearly half of African asylum seekers to Western countries as described in this JTA article. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu canceled this agreement as updated in this JTA article. You can learn more about this in this i24 News Report featuring Mike Wagenheim who will be speaking in our community on May 29.
Please consider supporting HIAS with a donation. We are collecting funds on behalf of our community to demonstrate our appreciation for their support of Amanuel and others in dire need through pro-bono legal counsel. Amanuel, Sam, and others have faced a long and painful journey. Through the work of our CRC, the intensive labor of HIAS, and other agencies supporting them, we have the ability to repair the world one life at a time. Can you help?