Background information About Eritrean Refugees
The country of Eritrea, located to the north of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, is a repressive dictatorship. The U.N. described the situation in the country: “Crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts – have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign since 1991 aimed at maintaining control over the population and perpetuating the Eritrean leadership’s rule.”
Tens of thousands of Eritrean men and women are held in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions, for calling for reform, practicing an outlawed religion like Pentecostal Christianity, or trying to avoid mandatory and indefinite national service which often includes forced labor and sexual violence. Countless detainees have died in custody and torture is commonplace. Most Eritrean women flee the country to avoid child marriages or sexual abuse or exploitation in the Eritrean military.
As a result of these dire conditions, hundreds of thousands of Eritrean men, women and children have escaped their country looking for safety and freedom. Smugglers and human traffickers take advantage of this market. During their journey to Israel, thousands of Eritrean men and women were held in trafficking compounds in the Sinai Desert in Egypt, until their families could pay ransom for their release. Hostages were subjected to brutal torture including electrocution, mass rape of women and men and branding. The New York Times, CNN, BBC and many other news outlets have covered in detail this brutal treatment of Eritrean refugees in the Sinai desert
Eritrean Women in Israel
Eritrean women in Israel traveled through the Sinai desert in Egypt in order to reach the border with Israel. This journey is notoriously dangerous as many refugees are held hostage by traffickers for extended periods of time until they are released in exchange for large sums of money. Many women are raped and the majority of individuals experience violence, torture, and a severe lack of basic needs along the way.
There are 7,000 Eritrean refugee women in Israel. About 3,000 of them experienced sexual assault and torture in the Sinai desert. All Eritrean women in Israel lack access to basic services including healthcare and welfare.
The Women's Center is the only place working to further community-based support structures for women. We offer a variety of direct services to help women struggling with past and current trauma. Our individual support services offer one-on-one assistance for vulnerable women with a special focus on single mothers. We run support groups led by trained social workers. We host community events to foster mutual solidarity and support on topics ranging from childcare to women’s health to domestic abuse. We hold monthly traditional coffee ceremonies, where women can come together in a supportive environment to talk about their struggles and offer support and advice.