FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 21, 2004
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
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
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,"
"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
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.