Below is the story of an asylee from Eritrea. She prefers to keep her name confidential:
I was born in 1979 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was an Ethiopian at birth but I am an Eritrean national.
Eritrea is a little known country in East Africa of about 5 million people. Eritrea was forcefully annexed with Ethiopia in 1962. Freedom fighters struggled for Eritrea’s independence against the Derg, the Ethiopian government from 1974 to 1991. The struggle ended in 1991, when the freedom fighters won the fight. A referendum was held in 1993. Eritreans overwhelmingly voted to be independent from Ethiopia. My parents decided it was time to move to Eritrea. We moved to Eritrea for good in 1993.I came to the U.S. on August 10, 2007, a year after I left my country. I left my country in August 2006. I won a scholarship to pursue higher studies in Geneva, Switzerland. While in Geneva, I received a tuition waiver to study at a university in Washington, DC.
I am an Evangelical Christian. While I went to Evangelical Christian churches since I was a child, I did not become a devoted Evangelical Christian until March 2005. Unfortunately, that was after the faith was banned in Eritrea and when hundreds of evangelical Christians were thrown in jail for their faith. In 2001, the government declared that only Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Islam were complying churches. All other faiths, including Evangelical/Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, Bahai, and Seventh Day Adventists, were declared non-compliant faiths and banned.
Going to Bible or Prayer cells in houses or even carrying the Bible could lead to arrest, detention or even death in some cases. That did not stop my desire to attend Bible study and prayer meetings. I was eager to learn God’s Word and become a mature Christian. I went to a friend’s house to pray and study the Bible.
At the time I left Eritrea, the government imprisoned hundreds of Evangelical Christians. The government did not show any signs of stopping the persecution against Evangelical Christians. I was too afraid to go back home when I finished my studies in the United States. I talked to a couple of my professors about my intention to apply for asylum. They strongly advised me against applying for asylum without legal representation. One of my professors talked to the Immigration Clinic of the Law School. The clinic contacted me and set up an appointment to interview me. Two interns at the clinic interviewed me and made copies of my documents.
About a week later, the clinic notified me that it would take my case and represent me in my asylum application. I was relieved to hear that news. My next concern was to get my asylum application filed before the one year dead line. I had only a few weeks to write my affidavit, gather documents and mail the package. I had more interviews with the interns at the clinic to write my affidavit. After the affidavit was ready, the package was mailed on August 1, 2008, just a few days before the one year deadline.
The next step was to wait for my fingerprint appointment. I had my fingerprints taken on August 21. Because the interns that prepared my application finished their internship at the end of August, the professor asked for a continuance of my asylum interview, which was originally set for the beginning of September. My interview was rescheduled for September 15, 2008. Another intern was assigned to be my student council. I had a moot interview with the clinic team a few days before my interview. The moot helped me to get prepared for the interview. I felt less anxious about the interview at the asylum office.
Then came September 15. I arrived at the asylum office early. I met the professor and the student counsel outside the building. My interview was scheduled at 9:00 AM. The three of us got up to the third floor. We sat in the waiting room. Almost three hours went by before the asylum officer called me. The long wait made me nervous.
Around 11:50, I was called by the asylum officer. We followed her to the interview room. After the oath was administered, the officer started to ask me questions. She typed my answers to her questions. She asked me questions for an hour and a half. I had not anticipated some of the questions but I had a feeling it went well. The officer told me the decision will be sent to me by mail in about two weeks.
A month and a half went by before I heard anything from the asylum office. I was very anxious to know the decision. When I get home from work, the first thing I did was to go to the kitchen table to see if anything came in the mail for me. I was so happy when I finally got the good news. It was a huge relief. I did not have to go back to my country and risks persecution from the government of Eritrea.
My getting asylum in the United States was wonderful news. However, my personal life got a little complicated because of it. My fiancé had proposed to me after I had left the country and I said yes! Now that I can not go back to Eritrea because of my asylum status, and because it is difficult for him to leave the country, we do not know when we will see each other again. We can only hope that it is sooner than we think. For now, I’m happy that I am safe until I meet the love of my life and start a new journey.