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Schumer And Rockville Centre Bishop Push Immigration Department To Intervene Before Refugee Is Sent To Death

Schumer and Bishop William F. Murphy also reveal that refugee soldier who fled torture in Eritrea has been assaulted and subjected to racial epithets while in US custody

Schumer, Bishop Murphy: "This has gone on long enough - we ask for your immediate intervention"

US Senator Charles E. Schumer and Bishop William F. Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre Long Island, today asked the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to overrule a faulty Immigration Court ruling that is poised to send a refugee soldier home to an almost-certain death.

Schumer and Bishop Murphy also revealed that the soldier – Alemseghed Mussie Tesfamical – has been assaulted and subjected to racial epithets from other inmates while in custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is not the first time Mr. Tesfamical has been attacked for his national origins – he fled to the United States in the first place because he was tortured in the Eritrean Army because he was born in Ethiopia.

"Mussie has already been subject to the worst kind of horrors, and it's just wrong to keep him locked up and subject to more abuse when his family and the Church are waiting for him with open arms," Schumer said.

"The government's refusal to overrule a bad decision against Mussie for three months is inexplicable. It should do the right thing and set Mussie free so that he is no longer forced to keep living in fear."

In early October, Schumer was told that he had succeeded in stopping the deportation of Mr. Tesfamical. But Mr. Tesfamical has still not been released to live with his family in the United States because officials in Washington at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services – the successor of the Immigration and Naturalization Service – will not sign off on his parole. The officials cite a "zero tolerance" policy against overruling even faulty deportation orders like the one that attempted to send Mr. Tesfamical back to Eritrea.

Mr. Tesfamical was born in Ethiopia but moved with his family to Eritrea in 1993, just as that country gained its independence from Ethiopia. When the two nations went to war in 1998, Mr. Tesfamical was forced to join the Eritrean Army. While in the Army, he was persecuted and tortured by his superior officers because of his Ethiopian origins. Mr. Tesfamical was subjected to a torture technique called "the helicopter," in which his hands and feet were tied behind his back and he was forced to lie naked on his stomach in the desert sun for days. Other Eritrean soldiers poured milk and sugar on him, attracting flies and insects that crawled all over him.

Torture like this is not uncommon in Eritrea – the US State Department and numerous human rights groups say the country has one of the world's worst records on human rights, especially toward ethnic Ethiopians. Ethiopia and Eritrea have a long history of bloodshed between them. (A time line of the Ethiopian-Eritrean wars is included below.) Mr. Tesfamical eventually escaped from the military, fled to the Sudan, and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in May 2002 seeking political asylum.

A federal Immigration Judge issued an order to remove Mr. Tesfamical from the United States in September 2002 based on a legal reasoning that military deserters are not entitled to recognition under the US asylum laws. Schumer and Mr. Tesfamical's Catholic Charities immigration attorney strongly dispute this interpretation of the law. Mr. Tesfamical was deported in May of 2003 but was sent back to the United States days later by officials in Turkey, where his flight had a stop-over.

After being told by US Immigration officials that he would again be deported to Eritrea, Mr. Tesfamical attempted to hang himself while in Immigration custody. In addition to being of Ethiopian origin, Mr. Tesfamical was now a military deserter, which is a grave offense in Eritrea according to the State Department, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups. After his suicide attempt, Mr. Tesfamical was admitted to Holliswood Hospital, a private psychiatric institution in Queens.

Schumer said today that Sister Delores has reported to him that since Thanksgiving, Mr. Tesfamical has been subject to physical and verbal abuse from another inmate, who specifically attacked Mussie for his racial origin. While Schumer did not blame the guards at Holliswood Hospital for the confrontations, he emphasized that they never would have occurred had Mr. Tesfamical been released as planned in October.

Schumer and Bishop Murphy today wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Michael J. Garcia asking for humanitarian parole for Mr. Tesfamical, objecting to the "zero tolerance" policy and asking him to personally intervene on Mr. Tesfamical's behalf.

"This is a classic asylum case and it has gone on long enough. We ask for your immediate intervention to assure that Mr. Tesfamical be released from detention as quickly as possible into the arms of family and our communities of faith so eager to embrace and care for him," Schumer and the Bishop wrote.

Although Eritrea had been historically and culturally separate from Ethiopia since the eighth century, it was formally made into Ethiopia's northernmost province in 1962. Shortly after this, the Eritrean War of Independence broke out. In 1993, Ethiopia's hard-line Communist government was deposed and the new government allowed a referendum on Eritrean independence to take place. Eritreans almost unanimously voted for independence, and Ethiopia officially recognized Eritrea's sovereignty in May 1993.

A brutal war broke out between the two countries in 1998 over the exact demarcation of the border between them. The war ended in 2000, but the official demarcation of the contested 1,000-km frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been repeatedly postponed. Speaking in Addis Ababa on Monday, the United Kingdom's Foreign Minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, warned the two countries that the international community is running out of patience with their stalled three-year-old peace process.


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