A Note to Readers of Mdrebahri
In the general interest of the readers of Mdrebahri, I have decided to post the personal story of Filmon and his quest for refugee status in the UK. I have done so because, apart from the fact that his story is of human interest, I also want to show and remind to all concerned – especially the British Home Office officials – that the untold suffering of young Eritrean refugees fleeing from the thralldom of the cruel and oppressive regime of Issayas Afeworki is immense and their case requires urgent attention by the Home Office.
The fact of the matter is that the suffering and ordeal of young Eritrean refugees is by no means over even after they have made their perilous journeys, arrived in the UK and submitted their asylum applications.
The frustrating thing is that processing the application of some of the unfortunate Eritrean refugees takes more than 10 years and, while the process is underway, they live in destitution and legal limbo and are not allowed to work or to go to school.
Consequently, in 2018 alone, six Eritrean teenager refugees who travelled to the UK unaccompanied have killed themselves after their hopes of being granted refugee status are dashed.
The Eritrean asylum seekers who are suffering immensely today are mostly young people between the ages of 16 and 25 (see pictures), who leave Eritrea for genuine political reasons and cross borders to reach the UK to seek safety in the hope of being granted full refugee status.
In view of the fact that six teenage Eritreans have already committed suicide in 2018 and many are feeling empty and leading depressed, and meaningless life conditions, I have to reiterate here that the acute and unbearable problem that young Eritrean refugees are facing in the UK requires urgent attention and solution by the Home Office.
Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis
Further Submission Unit,
Old Hall Street,
Liverpool L3 9PP
Subject: Filmon Werede Tesfatsion; DOB March 1 1996, Eritrea.
Home Office Ref: T3011374.
I am asked to represent in the above pending case for the named applicant in the submission of a fresh application for refugee status in the UK. The attached is the authorization letter duly signed by my client.
I would like to make it absolutely clear at the outset that I am not a lawyer. However, in my capacity as a political and human-rights activist, I assist Eritrean refugee applicants who approach me for assistance, especially those who do not have access to the service of solicitors in the UK. My intervention on behalf of Eritrean political refugees without status is therefore purely on human-rights and humanitarian grounds.
Let me now present his case. For reasons of clarity, I have written this submission in the first-person form.
My name is Filmon Werede Tesfatsion and I was born on March 1 1996 in Hazega, Eritrea. I have four siblings: three brothers and one sister. I belong to the Tigrinya-speaking ethnic group who inhabit the highland regions of Eritrea.
I began attending school at the age of 6, completing grade 5 and proceeding to grade 6. However before completing grade 6, I stopped going to school because my parents and siblings were detained by the Eritrean authorities. As a result, I became very worried and concerned about what could happen to my parents and was therefore unable to concentrate and continue with my schooling. I therefore stayed at home.
Both my father and mother were originally members of the Orthodox Church but were later converted with my siblings to the Pentecostal faith. Because the Pentecostal faith is banned in Eritrea, my parents, siblings and their friends held their secret Pentecostal prayers in our house. My grandparents and I, however, remained in the Orthodox faith.
In January 2009, my grandparents were informed that my parents and siblings had been arrested by the Eritrean security forces while practising their Pentecostal faith and had been detained in Barentu prison. My grandparents made several attempts to visit my parents in prison but to no avail.
2.I was summoned for Military Service
In April 2009, I was summoned to do military service. However, I ignored these calls for me to do national service and continued to stay at home. However, in May 2009, two soldiers came to my grandparents’ house and took me away by force. Subsequently, I was detained at Mietirh prison in Semienawi Keyih Bahri.
In July 2009, I was released from detention and conscripted into the army.
In November 2009 my paternal uncle, who lives in Asmara, informed my grandparents that my siblings had escaped from prison and were hiding in his house in Asmara. They were able to escape while assigned to do slave labour. Similarly, in December 2009, my grandparents were informed by a security guard from our village, who happened to have been working at the Barentu prison, that he had witnessed my parents being taken out of the prison together with other prisoners. It has since been confirmed that all those that were taken that day were summarily executed.
As for myself, having completed six months’ military training, I was forced to do various unpaid menial jobs such as working on construction sites, and repairing damaged bridges and working on government-owned farms. There were always armed guards supervising our work.
On May 5 2010, at about 6pm, accompanied by armed guards, we were taken to the surrounding bush to relieve ourselves. While in the bush, some of us decided to run away from the guards. I personally ran as fast as I could into the bush.
I heard gunshots, but I continued to run until I arrived in the next village, Sheab. I stayed in Sheab for one night and continued my journey the next day all the way to Asmara. I walked for two days, avoiding the checkpoints along the way. I eventually arrived in Asmara and went straight to the house of my uncle. There, I joined my siblings in hiding. We stayed indoors all the time while my uncle was busy making arrangements for us with an agent to take us to a safe country.
3.My Escape from Eritrea to Sudan
In October 2011, my siblings and I, under the direction and guidance of our agent, left Asmara on foot and walked towards the border with Sudan. We walked until we crossed the border and arrived in Kassala. There we stayed in the house of a friend of my uncle. While in Kassala, I was lucky to meet other Eritrean deserters who were making arrangements to go to a safe country and they agreed that I could join them.
4.The Journey from Sudan to Libya
On January 2 2012, I left Kassala, together with the other Eritreans and the agent, to go to Benghazi, Libya. The journey to Libya by car took us about six days. Unfortunately, on arrival in Benghazi, we were arrested by the Libyan police and put in prison. After some time in prison, the guards demanded that I pay them US$1000 in order to secure my release. However, because I was not able to pay them, I was kept in prison for one year and seven months.
One afternoon, I and 10 other prisoners were ordered to clean the prison yards and to throw the rubbish outside the premises of the prison. When we realised that the guards were not paying attention to us, after throwing the rubbish, we ran away in different directions.
One of those who escaped with me had the telephone number of a relative living abroad. Subsequently, he contacted his relative who quickly contacted an agent in Benghazi. The agent came and took us somewhere to stay for one night. The next day, he put us in a dinghy which took us to Italy.
5.The Journey from Libya to Italy
Having left Libya in a dinghy and after almost two days of travelling, I arrived in Italy on July 3 2013. As soon as we had disembarked from the boat, the Italian immigration officers divided us in two groups, one for minors and the other for adults. I stayed in the group for minors. However, the other Eritreans who had assisted me all the way from Libya to Italy advised me to join their group. They said that I would be taken away from them if I stayed in the group of minors. Therefore, in order to join the group of adults, I told the Italian immigration officers that my date of birth was January 1 1994. I was then allowed to stay in the group of adults. The Italian officers then took our fingerprints and photographs and took us to a camp where I stayed for three months. During this period, we did not have any visits from immigration officials. After three months, the person in charge of running the camp told us that we had to leave the camp because his contract to look after us had been completed.
So, suddenly, we were left without a roof over our heads and did not know where to go. We therefore went to a police station and told them what had happened. The police told us that there was nothing they could do if the man who had been looking after us had completed his contract. We were therefore forced to go on to the streets.
6. Street Life in Italy
Three months after our arrival in Italy, we were therefore condemned to lead a street life in a society marked by wealth and extravagance. And, once we had begun a street life, we met other Eritrean refugees who were sleeping rough on the streets and joined them.
I personally led a street life in Italy for nine months. It was a very hard life. No one cared about us as refugees. We slept underground at an old disused train station. Sometimes passers-by came to chase us away from the location. We used to go to charitable organisations to get food once a day but most of the time we had no food to eat. The weather was too cold for us and we did not have any protection. At night, drunkards would come around and throw bottles at us or urinate on us while we were sleeping. Drug addicts would also search our pockets for money while we were asleep.
One day, in June 2014, when I was sleeping on the street, a man who was in a car came to me and told me that he would help me and that he could take me to his house and look after me. I believed this man and went with him. When we arrived at his place, I released that there was no one living there except for him. He allowed me to take a shower, gave me some food and clothes and showed me a room where I could sleep. However, after midnight, he came silently into my room while I was sleeping. He tried to take off my pants and to assault me sexually. However, I fought back with determination. After an exchange of hard punches and some wrangling between the two of us, the phone began ringing. The man then hurriedly left the room, but locked it from outside. However, I broke the window with a chair and ran away from the house wearing only my pants.
I ran through the streets like this until I reached that place where my fellow Eritreans were sleeping under a bridge. I was distraught. Nevertheless, I was given some clothes by my fellow Eritreans. They did not believe me, however, when I told them that the man had tried to rape me but had not had any success. As a result, most of my fellow Eritreans began to isolate and stigmatise me and to distance themselves from me. Consequently, I developed stress-related mental-health problems emanating from the feeling of being rejected by my own people, a feeling that I had internalised. Feeling despised and rejected by my fellow countrymen, I decided to leave Italy and to travel to France with my final destination being the UK.
7.My Departure from Italy to France
After having led a very humiliating street life for nine months in Italy (without any support from the Italian authorities), on July 1 2014 I left Italy hidden in a train. I arrived in Paris, France, and continued my journey, along with other Eritrean asylum-seekers, to Calais. After staying in Calais for about three weeks, on July 26 2014 I left France undetected, hidden on a lorry destined for the UK. I arrived in the UK on the same day and claimed asylum.
8. My Request to the Home Office
In concluding my story, I would like the UK authorities dealing with my case to understand that Eritrea, under the rule of Issayas Afeworki, is a police state and this is why it is rightly and widely referred to as “the North Korea of Africa”. This is also why Eritreans who are under threat of deportation back to Eritrea face a particular peril. For the PFDJ-led government is well known for its merciless brutality towards its citizens, especially those who have deserted the army and requested political asylum in the West.
Therefore, for the reasons that I have already explained in detail in this submission, as I deserted the Eritrean army and was forced to flee from my country illegally, undertaking perilous journeys to reach the UK, I cannot return to Eritrea as long as my country remains under the rule of a brutal dictator who is accountable to no one. Nor can I return to Italy where I have already had a humiliating and excruciating experience lasting nine months.
In other words, as someone who has left Eritrea illegally, deserted the army and applied for refugee status in the UK, I have a legitimate fear that, if returned to Eritrea, I would face torture, long-term imprisonment, or even murder at the hands of the rogue PFDJ regime. I therefore seek Leave to Remain in the UK as a refugee.
I very much hope, therefore, that considering my illegal exit from Eritrea, my desertion from the army and the eight years I have lived in the UK in legal limbo and in destitution, the Home Office will consider my case favourably and grant me refugee status.
I thank you very much for your understanding and cooperation in what, for me, is a very important matter.
Filmon Werede Tesfatsion
I, Filmon Werede Tesfatsion, hereby confirm that my adviser, Drs Tsegezab Gebregergis, who wrote this fresh application in English on my behalf, has fully explained to me, in the Tigrinya language, the entire contents of this application. I have fully understood its contents and they are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.
Signature..Filmon W. Tesfatsion
Date…April 2 2019