This is an uplifting story, but also a sad one.

Source: Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

He should not have been held in Israeli detention for years; Alem Gerezgiher should have been given refugee status in Israel.

We are writing to you today with exciting personal news about our friend Alem Gerezgiher. Alem is an Eritrean asylum seeker who spent years in administrative detention, without trial, just because the State refused to believe that he was an Eritrean citizen. Today, Alem is preparing for a new chapter in the United States.

Alem fled Eritrea when he was just 19 years old, initially arriving in Saudi Arabia and then being deported to Ethiopia. In search of freedom and security, he continued to Sudan, and on his way to Israel he was abducted by human traffickers and severely tortured in Sinai. After this long journey, Alem arrived in Israel in 2011, but the hardships did not end: Interior Ministry officials decided that Alem was an Ethiopian citizen – a country where he had only spent a month in total – and was therefore ineligible for the group protection that Eritrean citizens in Israel receive. Thus Alem found himself in Saharonim Detention Center for five unbearable years.

We tried to prove that Alem was Eritrean in every way possible, including obtaining his mother’s Eritrean ID and his school graduation certificate, and even recorded a phone conversation with his mother in Eritrea. Despite all our efforts, Alem continued to wait in detention, where we saw how from visit to visit he became increasingly pale and lean, and how his health and mental state deteriorated.Our bittersweet goodbye. Pictured from left: Alexandra, Alem, and Ghere.Thanks to our experience representing survivors of the torture camps in Sinai, we realized that Alem had the misfortune of being a member of this group. Over time, as he grew to trust us, he chose to share his harrowing experiences with us. Finally, after encouraging him to overcome the shame he felt, Alem was able to tell the social worker in Saharonim Detention Center about the kidnapping and torture he underwent in Sinai. With her letter and our referrals to police and legal aid, we were able to get Alem recognized as a human trafficking victim, released from prison, and transferred to live in a rehabilitative shelter.

We eventually realized that after the severe trauma Alem had experienced, in addition to spending many years behind bars without treatment, a more holistic solution was necessary for him. We handed over his case to the UNHCR who identified him as Eritrean and found a place for him to be resettled.

Last week, Alem visited our office to say a bittersweet goodbye. After many years of uncertainty in Israel, later this month he will begin a new life in the United States in a UNHCR resettlement program. After all he has been through, we are relieved to know that Alem can finally move on to a home where he will receive the support he needs. This goodbye was also an opportunity for us to tell him how glad we are to have known him during over five years of working together. We were honored when Alem responded that he would always remember the Hotline, and that Alexandra was like a second mother to him.Our work in the Hotline’s Crisis Intervention Center involves many moments of despair and frustration, moments when we know we have done everything we can to help our clients, but have still not succeeded to change the State’s policy toward them. Saying goodbye to Alem brought us to tears and reminded us that even in the most difficult situations, when change literally takes years, we still have the ability to help others change their reality for the better.

Alexandra Roth, Crisis Intervention Center Director
Ghere Tekle, Eritrean Cultural Mediator


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