Gebre* thought that fleeing the chaos in Eritrea would keep his family safe.
That hope was shattered in July of 2012, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the Jerusalem apartment Gebre's daughter (seven months pregnant at the time) and son-in-law share. The two were badly injured and extremely traumatized. The attack was just one in a string of xenophobic attacks against African migrants in Israel.
The experience left the couple so shaken that they could barely function. Gebre stepped in to support them, helping to pay the rent and buy food. He also supported the family emotionally, spending time with his 2-year-old grandchild. But more bad news was on its way.
In February, Gebre was summoned to the Holot detention facility in the Negev Desert, where the government planned to detain him for 20 months. In Holot, however, he would no longer be able to work to support his family. Even seeing them would be difficult, as the facility is hours away from Jerusalem.
Ordinarily, Gebre would have been left to navigate this impossible situation alone as he could afford a lawyer and the Israeli government does not provide legal assistance to refugees like him. But Amir Peled, a Rukin Legal Fellow at HIAS Israel, stepped in to represent him on a pro-bono basis after his case was referred by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. Peled is one of 25 such fellows, who are trained and mentored in asylum law. Although the program is only in its first year, many of its fellows, like Peled, are already beginning to represent asylum seekers pro bono.
On March 16, Peled filed an appeal on Gebre’s behalf. Citing Gebre’s age, his family’s circumstances and a need to consider what is in the best interests of the child, Peled argued that the decision to send Gebre to Holot was unreasonable. Under the law, as well as the criteria set by the Ministry, people with families or dependents should not be detained in Holot. Since Gebre had submitted an asylum request more than a year ago which is still pending, he should not be held in Holot, Peled argued. Along with the appeal, Peled requested an interim order against the decision in order to keep the family together.
The appeals tribunal issued an interim order the same day, and Gebre was allowed to renew his visa. His order to Holot is still pending, but he is able to continue working legally and to remain with his family while his appeal continues. He works for the municipality, cleaning the streets there six days a week in order to support his family.
“I know now that we made a great difference in this family’s lives,” Peled said. “They had no one to count on for help. Receiving legal aid for free brought them great relief and hope for the future. I was very moved by their story and feel grateful for being able to assist them”.
The Ministry conducted second interview with Gebre and his daughter in June – this time with Peled present. A hearing date has yet to be scheduled, so for now Gebre waits. But he is not waiting alone.
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy
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