By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Sr Azezet, on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights, has heard the stories of hundreds of refugees in Israel who come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the Sudan. Most of them fell into the hands of traffickers in Northern Africa, and survived hellish tortures in Sinai until their ransom was finally paid.
Crossing the border into Israel
After all that they had experienced in Sinai, many immigrants were shot down by Egypt’s border guards as they tried to cross into Israel. It was common for Sr Azezet to hear, “I left Sinai with ten people, two of us were left when we arrived”. Others arrived bearing wounds from bullets that had grazed them.
Stranded in Israel
Once they arrived in Israel, the immigrants received treatment and were identified. But Israel refused to “take them”, Sr Azezet explains. Some were deported immediately to Egypt—to the exact country in which they had been tortured. It was during this time that Physicians for Human Rights began to intervene, providing food and water to the refugees who remained on the border between Egypt and Israel. “They were in the desert without water and without food,” Sr Azezet says. The aid Israel provided to these refugees was gradually reduced more and more.
The fact that the United Nations has been unsuccessful in resolving their situation with the Israeli government has affected the refugees deeply. “Their suffering concluded with great hope. Because they arrived in the Holy Land, Jesus’ land, the prophet’s land. And they thought that everything would be okay because ‘I am in the best land in the world, the holiest land in the world’.” The suffering that they had endured in Sinai which they had been able to view with “hope and strength” has been changed. “They are more depressed than before”, Sister says.
They touch this suffering every three months when they have to renew their visa with procedures that constantly change. It is a reminder to them that they are “always unwanted”. This unending cycle is “hell”, says Sr Azezet. “They are more depressed, they are more worried, … they don’t know what will be their future.”