Dear Mr. President Obama…

Dear Mr. President Obama,

Have you ever been to Israel? Have you ever seen the cotton candy sunsets over the prominent Jerusalem stone which covers every building in the city? Before you stop reading, thinking this is a piece that’s going to bash you or implore you to think deeply about America’s “special relationship” with Israel – it’s not. I’m writing this to ask you for your help.

My name is Talia Janel Medina. I was born in New York, raised in Florida and somehow ended up in Israel shortly after graduating from the University of Florida. I’ve been interning at a news agency here since February. The stories I’ve covered and the adventures I’ve gone on have allowed me to not only explore the country, but also truly see it for all its beauty.

Sadly, with one of my stories, I discovered something not so pretty about Israel and the government’s treatment toward asylum seekers from countries like Eritrea and Sudan. It’s not good. It’s downright ugly and awful. I wrote an article about Israel’s abuse toward asylum seekers which you can read here. In the article I mention a man who I refer to as Aaron. His story is what inspired me to write you.

Aaron escaped Eritrea’s tyranny and fled to Ethiopia. He spent a year at a refugee camp but dreamed of a better life, a life where he could start a family, living safely in a democratic country.

“The decision I made to come here was for personal security because of the system in Eritrea.” – Aaron

Israel is the only democratic country in the MENA region and can be reached by land from Africa, so Aaron thought this would be his best bet. He was severely mistaken.

It’s been nearly a decade since Aaron entered Israel, yet he still has not been granted asylum. In fact, Israel has granted asylum to only four Eritreans and zero Sudanese since 2009. Less than two percent of asylum applications even receive a response while the rest of the applications go unanswered.

Aaron works hard for his family and serves as a voice for other refugee seekers in Israel. He’s been granted a rare B-1 visa which allows him to work but he has to renew it every two months or risk being sent to the Holot detention center.

The most tragic part of this story is that Aaron almost realized his dream of democracy and refuge.

Three months after Aaron left Ethiopia for Israel, the United States government granted asylum to the thousands of people who were living at the refugee camp Aaron had just vacated. Can you imagine?! All you dream of is safety, democracy and freedom, so you flee to a place you think will give you that. Then, once you get there, after weeks of hardship crossing the Sahara desert, you find out the government will not give you this sanctuary. Instead, they will call you “infiltrators” and “cancer” to their country. They will make your life hell. To top it all off, the absolute greatest country on this planet just granted your dream to everyone you left behind.

There are probably other stories like this, but I don’t know them. I know this man and his story, and when I spoke with him I could feel nothing but goodness and positivity pouring from the eyes that were almost as worn down as his old blue t-shirt.

“If I knew my chances in advance, I might have stayed in Ethiopia, but when you feel insecure, you’re in a moment and I took the decision. When I entered Israel, after three months, the United States gave resettlement to all the people that I left, thousands, and all my friends, now they are American citizens. It’s the kind of chance that you don’t know. If I knew in advance that there was no chance for me here, to come and still be here for eight years and be called an infiltrator, an immigrant living in limbo, I would have stayed. Of course, you don’t know that when you leave, and I took the chance.” – Aaron

I know there are a million other things you are concerned about seeing as you are the leader of the free world, but Mr. Obama, if you could bring Aaron and his family to the United States and grant them asylum, I would be forever grateful. I realize you don’t owe me anything and that I’m asking a lot, but all I want is for Aaron to be able to raise his kids in a country where they are safe and free.

Please consider my plea. America was built on dreams and determination, on the idea that anyone could make it if they tried hard enough. I know Aaron and his family could be some of the greatest contributors to our society, and make our country proud. President Obama, please grant them the chance of achieving the American dream.

“My friends, they come here now. They visit as tourists. They have become good people, they study, they have a new way of life with a vision. This is what I want for my children. As long as I am living, I have to provide my children with all the best skills. I dream they will have a different life than me. I want to educate them, to give them the tools to make their life, their future, more bright and successful, just like any father would want.” – Aaron

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Talia Janel Medina

taliajmedina@gmail.com 

____

Editor’s note:

I know Mr. Obama will probably never see this, but I wanted to share Aaron’s story for so many reasons. The half hour I spent with him opened my eyes and sort of changed my life.

Throughout our conversation, he kept reiterating how lucky he was, that despite all the unfair mistreatment his family faces habitually, he is lucky to have a family, and lucky to be alive.

His positive energy is something I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m thankful my life will probably never be as hard as his, and I need to remember that whenever I think I have it bad.

Though my article’s been published and my assignment is complete, the story doesn’t end here for me. I’m not sure exactly how yet but I want to do everything I can to help stop the oppression of the 47,000 asylum seekers in Israel. It baffles me that a country established by a people who for thousands of years have known nothing but this same sort of persecution can turn around and maltreat people begging for help. What happened to tikkun olam?

It absolutely breaks my heart. While I sit here and wonder what can I do, please consider your options as well.

Today is World Refugee Day.

According to The Independent, one in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum — and those 59.5 million people would together represent the world’s 24th largest population.

There are a number of ways to get involved and help asylum seekers in Israel including, but not limited to:

– Donating to organizations like the Hotline for Refuges and Migrant Workers, the African Refugee Development Center, the UN Refugee Agency, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and many, many more…

– Volunteering with any of the aforementioned organizations or one in your local community

– Contacting your congressperson, writing to him or her, informing him/her of the issue and urging your congressperson to put global pressure on Israel

– Talking about it – with your neighbor, your teacher, your siblings, your partner, your friends and anyone who will listen. Spark the conversation that ignites social change in your community.

Thank you for reading. Have a lovely day. ❤

“One day I hope to go home to a democratic country where it can protect it’s people. Being a refugee is not easy, it’s very difficult. I am politically active. I want to make my country one that will not produce any refugees and can protect its people. That’s what I dream of.” – Aaron

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