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Ghezae Hagos Berhe

Bereket Yohannes

Alan Yusim

David Matas


Rhonda Spivak, October 11, 2011

Bnai Brith Midwest Region has become involved with the Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba and recently co-sponsored a seminar at Convocation Hall of the University of Winnipeg commemorating 20 years of detention of Eritrean prisoners of conscience.
Eritreans who have immigrated to Manitoba [and have formed The Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba] have sought to bring human rights violations being perpetrated on their home country to the attention of the general public in Canada, and the program focused on that.
“It is not easy to raise the issue of human rights violations by the Eritrean government. Eritreans in Canada fear that if they publicize these violations, the government in Eritrea will take revenge on their families, “says Ghezae Hagos Berhe, one of the organizers of the event.
Ghezae and his friend Bereket Yohannes, who were interviewed by the Winnipeg Jewish Review after the event, both said that they “have friends from Eritrea who escaped to Israel and have come as refugees to live in Israel.”
Eritrea is a country of northeast Africa bordering on the Red Sea, which used to be a province of Ethiopia. Eritreans escaping their country make it to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and then to Israel, if they are lucky.
My friends are grateful to be in Israel.  It is the best place for Eritreans to escape to. It is the only democracy in the area. I know a few families in Israel,” Berekat says.
However, other Eritireans have not been so lucky, according to Berekat. In the Sinai the Bedouin traffickers sometimes capture the Eritrean refugees , and lock them up keeping them in inhuman conditions in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Then the Bedouin call their relatives a in Eritrea and demand ransom money for their release. They do this with the knowledge of the Eritrean government.”
Media reports have revealed that some of the refugees have allegedly been killed by their Bedouin captors. The Sinai has become a lawless area that is often not in the control of the Egyptian regime.
Eritreans have been subject to an extremely repressive government, whose tyranny, mass detentions and torture have resulted in Eritreans constituting one of the largest number of asylum seekers in the world.
Alan Yusim, executive director of B’nai Brith Midwest Region became involved with Ghezae , Baraket and other Eritreans in Manitoba.
This was brought to B’nai Brith’s attention by a group of Eritrean refugees who recorded the speech. Since then, B’nai Brith and the refugees have been in contact , while international media pays scant attention to the plight of Eritrean refugees.
Ghezae first made contact with the Winnipeg Jewish Review almost a year ago when he reported on an antisemetic incident that occurred at a pro-Eritrean government group meeting that was held at the Masonic Temple in Winnipeg.
At the time, a pro-Eritrean government speaker, Sophia Tesfamariam who came to speak at  Winnipeg's  Masonic Temple, was quoted as saying, “We’ve  got to be like Jews but don’t be evil like them; don’t blow up people; don’t do things that are evil, absolutely that is our job,” ( )
A  group of Eritrean refugees had recorded the speech and brought it to Alan Yusim.
Ghezae wrote to the Winnipeg Jewish Review at the time, “What shocked us was her [Tesfamariam’s] vitriolic words when it came to Jews or the Israeli state.”
According to Ghezae, a gentleman at the meeting who supported the speaker said in a loud and aggressive tone, “...we can’t defeat the media because the people who control it are the Jews. They favour Ethiopia...”
Belle Millo, co-chair of B’nai Brith’s (Midwest Region) Jewish-Christian Roundtable, moderated the evening at the  U of W. Yusim read opening remarks prepared by David Matas, human rights advocate and senior counsel to B’nai Brith, who was in Montreal at the time:
“If we know nothing about Eritrea, we better learn and learn fast. The abuses Eritrea wreaks on its citizens run the risk of affecting us all. Human rights oppression is a spreading indelible stain. It never stops with today’s victims. Unless today’s victims are defended, we run the risk of becoming tomorrow’s victims.”
Ghezae and Berekat said that at the seminar at U o f W , two video presentations were shown – one of an interview of Eritrean President Afwerkiclaiming that there was no shortage of food in his country, but that food shortages existed in the US and Europe. The second video was a Skype conversation with a 14-year-old Eritrean girl, now living in Boston, who has not had any contact with her parents in 12 years. She discovered that they her parents had been arrested by doing a Google search of their names some years ago.
Professor Mussie Tesfagiorgis, of the U of W history department, introduced keynote speaker, Dan Connell, a knowledgeable Western experts on Eritrea. A question-and-answer period followed Connell’s talk.
Yusim ended the program with Matas’s words:
“Human rights belong to individuals, not states. Leave human rights to states and human rights will wither. Individuals must assert human rights to keep those rights alive.  Crimes against humanity are crimes against us all. When crimes against humanity are committed, we are all victims. We must not be silent in the face of our own victimization, when part of our human family suffers from grave abuses.”
After the event, Ghezae and Bereket presented Yusim with a plaque as a token of their appreciation for B’nai Brith’s involvement in their cause.

The seminar was also co-sponsored by the University of Winnipeg Global College, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Menno Simmons College of University of Winnipeg, Amnesty International, the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, CKUW Radio at the University of Winnipeg.

Editor's note: Here is what is written about Ghezae on the Citizen and Immigration website:

Born in Asmara, Eritrea, Ghezae left his home country in 1999 because of the war with Ethiopia. As a journalist and teaching assistant with a law degree from Asmara University, he both lived and covered stories of the war.
“I originally left Eritrea to go to McGill University in Montreal after they gave me a scholarship,” says Ghezae. “While in Canada, the Eritrean government closed all the newspapers. Many of my colleagues and even my best friend were put in jail. Most of my friends are still in jail. Some of them have died there.  None have been freed. They’ve been in prison for nearly a decade. When I saw what was happening, I knew there’d be a death warrant for me if I went back. I decided to make a refugee claim in Canada.”
With his wife and son now with him in Winnipeg, Ghezae continues to help others by working with refugee claimants at the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to help the way I was helped. It kind of makes sense in my life. I know what it means to miss home.”
As to the future, Ghezae says, “Persecution, sorrow and suffering aren’t truly in the past. Unless men of commitment and dedication advocate for change, things will be worse. As a humanitarian activist, I want to find a voice. A voice to tell Canadians to act before it is too late for Eritrea.”

Did you know that in some countries, you can go to jail or be tortured just because you practice your religion?

To read more about Berekat, click here:



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