Two weeks ago on Christmas day I was on my way to a political meeting with other African asylum seekers when I saw unmarked cars and buses pull into a dim parking lot beside Levinsky Park. Men dressed in plain clothes stopped every African on the Tel Aviv street and asked for their paper work. In Israel even though we who fled conflict do not have refugee status, we have conditional release orders, a temporary license that allows staying in Israel legally, but not working or seeking medical care.
The men identified themselves as being from the Ministry of Immigration. They asked for the Africans’ paperwork, to show that their conditional release orders were up to date. We have to renew these documents every three months and the original, which they also wanted, is big, so most of us keep it at home. On that day everyone who did not have the original was arrested. They did not even ask if the people they were arresting were fathers, or had families, nothing.
My friend Ahron and I were standing in the middle of Neve Sha’anan Street, the center of culture for refugees and immigrants Israel. Some of these plain clothed men asked for Ahron and my identification documents. Ahron’s had an appointment the next day to re-new his papers. The men separated from me. I followed them and they took him to a corner in the parking lot where border police shoved him into a car. I saw other Africans in the car, Sudanese and Eritreans.
When we, Sudanese and Eritreans came, we came from the same direction. Through the Sinai we entered Israel together and now live in the same neighborhood and we face the same problems. Now the Israeli government is jailing refugees that were once living freely, with documents of non-removal inside of the cities. Israel placed theses people here, and now they are rounding them up.
The immigration authorities then took Ahron to jail in Ramle. I’ve talked to him twice, but I haven’t heard from him since two days after his arrest.
When I first entered Israel in 2011 from Eritrea, I crossed the desert border at four in the morning. There were 29 people with me. The Egyptian army shot at us. It looked like war. But everyone entered safely. At six or seven in the morning Israeli soldiers met us and took us to an army camp. They asked if any among us were hurt and if we needed to go to the hospital. They were really, really nice and that gave us hope.
Me, I went to the hospital because barbed wire was stuck in my leg. The next day I went to an army detention camp. After 15 days I was questioned: where are you from? How did you come here? Were you robbed in Sinai? Then I was given a document in Hebrew that they told me said I entered the country illegally. I signed it then I got my conditional release paperwork and one free bus ticket from Beersheva to Tel Aviv.
When I got to Tel Aviv it was winter and raining. My leg still hurt. The bus driver told us to walk to Levinsky Park. No one on the bus knew where the park was, or that it was where Israel was dumping refugees. We asked Israeli people on the street in English where was the park and no one answered us. Finally we saw an Ethiopian man. We saw his kipa, but we thought our chance was fifty-fifty because he worked at the bus station. We formed a circle around him and said, “please, please show us where the park is, because we only feel safe to talk to you.”
From the next month I lived in the park. The cut in my leg got infected. I used to clean it from a water fountain. One day I was sitting on a sofa in the garden and a man approached me and he offered that I could sleep in his area. He gave me two blankets. Now he’s back in Sudan, because he hated the life in Levinsky Park. He felt it was worse than Sudan because people looked at him like he was a slave.
Today I live in an apartment in Florentin, a bohemian neighborhood that separates the refugees from Israeli society. I have a job, I’m a community organizer with the Eritrean community, and I am a volunteer translator for an Israeli elementary school. But always I’m suffering because since Christmas I can no longer renew my conditional release order. Quietly, in December, maybe the 15th of the month, I don’t know, Israeli police began arresting people in the street like my friend Ahron. And even inside of the Ministry of Interior, when African people line up to renew their paperwork, the Israeli police pull up buses and take us to jail. For those that get to meet with someone from the government, instead of having their residency permits renewed they are given something we call “the white paper,” which is a summons to show up at prison.
I escaped from danger in Eritrea. I escaped through danger in the Sinai. I thought finally now in Israel I will get rest. But now I feel differently. I feel the story of danger is returning again. I saved myself once, but now I have to do it again. So tomorrow I am going to Jerusalem in front of the Knesset to ask for my right to asylum by a fair and transparent process.