Priest calls for Eritrean refugee to be granted asylum in UK
Eritrean Asfeha Fesehaya has lived in the presbytery of St Catherine’s parish in Birmingham for the past seven months. Here, the parish priest of St Catherine’s, Columban Jim Fleming, presents the case for him to be granted asylum in Britain.
Asfeha is an Eritrean national who is currently seeking asylum in the UK due to the current dire situation in his own country. According to Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, Eritrea’s record is very poor. The youth are drafted into the military under the pretext of national service but it means an unlimited stay in the military. Freedom of speech, expression and the right to choose one’s religion in Eritrea is unthinkable. The government has been in power for the last two decades without any legal form of election. Arbitrary detention of any person who is presumed by the government to be a dissident or even a potential dissenting person is common in Eritrea. Because of the harsh treatment of its citizens the Eritrean government is informally known as the North Korea of Africa.
Thousands of Eritrean people, especially the young people, are trying to flee the country on a regular basis. Asfeha is the victim of this dictatorial government and he was forced to leave his country illegally in May 2000. He was a soldier, but escaped from his squadron to Sudan, surrendering to the Sudanese government and seeking asylum in Sudan. He lived there from 2000-2007. Even though he had been in Sudan for some years, his life was marred by intimidation and fear because many times it was rumoured that the Sudanese government was prepared to send army deserters back to Eritrea. So, at the beginning of 2008 he left Sudan illegally and arrived in Israel.
The living conditions of refugees in Israel were quite hard and the Israeli government often threatened to send the refugees back to their homeland. Due to the horrendous experiences he had in his own country he was always looking for a safer place free from intimidation and torture. While in Israel he heard that the Eritrean embassy there was issuing passports for bribes. First he applied for a legal Eritrean passport but his application was refused. He then met one of the officers of the Eritrean embassy who told him that if he paid him $500 he could get him a passport. So, Asfeha bought the passport and then bought an airline ticket for Angola via the UK. He arrived in the UK on 02/02/2010 and requested asylum.
Asfeha stresses that his long journey from Eritrea to UK has been about the desire for a safe haven where he will be assured of recognition of his human rights, which he would not get in Eritrea. He is now convinced that were he to be deported back to Eritrea, he would definitely be tortured and maybe killed as a deserter from the Eritrean army.
For the past seven months our parish of St Catherine’s has offered Asfeha accommodation in our church property, but we cannot assure him of hospitality indefinitely. While here, he has been an outstanding volunteer in helping to maintain the property and in so many other ways. I can vouch for him, knowing that he would prove to be an excellent citizen of the UK.