Amar fled his home in Eritrea in 2011, in fear of forced conscription into the armed forces. He left in search of peace and safety, but faced a dangerous journey and an uncertain new home. Over the last year, he has been working as an interpreter and cultural broker in social support services in Israel and participating in Interpreter and Cultural Broker training, offered in collaboration with two Sauvé Fellows, Maya Fennig and Rachel MacNeill, and partially funded by the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation.
Over 32,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have made their way to Israel over the last decade, fleeing war and poverty for relative safety. However, in Israel, the trauma of forced migration is compounded by a dearth of culturally relevant support services and limited or nonexistent opportunity to build a stable new life. There have been nearly 14,000 asylum applications by Eritrean and Sudanese migrants over the last five years, and only 11 people have been granted refugee status. Another 200 Sudanese, all from Darfur, have been granted humanitarian status.
Amar fled his home in 2011, at the age of 13. Now 20, he has been working as a translator since early 2018. “I started working as a translator because I had the privilege of speaking five languages,” he says. “Since I started here, I can explain to the doctor what patients feel like. It made me feel like I’m doing something better, they even thank me for what I’m doing and say ‘great job’”.
Amar’s skill with languages is a testament to his will. In Israel, refugees face individual and systemic discrimination, with no status and few rights. “I’ve faced a lot of discrimination,” he says. “I’ve been told racist things. Every two months I renew my visa and when I go there and they give me a visa I have to wait in the sun a long time, they make sure I hate this process.”
This year, the government started offering money for refugees to return to countries in Africa—a program that has been heavily criticized for encouraging desperate people to return to dangerous situations. “My experience has been very tough,” says Amar. “How I’ve been treated here and how the government sees us is different and we don’t have many rights. There are a lot of things to make our life very difficult, even giving us money so we can go back–but most people here aren’t because of money, they ask for refugee status because something changed in Eritrea.”
This summer, Amar was accepted to go to Canada with refugee status. He’s not sure what he’s going to do, but he hopes to go to school and study as soon as possible. His work with the Interpreter and Cultural Broker training will hopefully contribute to his success. “I think its opened my mind a little bit to things why things happened and I think it’s very important because a lot of Eritrean and Sudanese have been through a lot on their way here and they need help,” says Amar of the training program. “So if I can even help one person, even a friend, what I learn I think is great.”