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Kebedom Mengistu's little newspaper gives hope to Africans who've fled to Israel

Using his laptop, Kebedom Mengistu publishes Hadush Zemen (New Century), a newspaper for refugees from Eritrea who've survived the perilous trip and settled in Israel.

By Ruth EglashContributor / November 2, 2012

Kebedom Mengistu holds a copy of New Century, the community newspaper he established for Eritrean refugees in Israel.

Maxim Reider

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Tel Aviv

In his tiny, shared rented room a stone's throw from the bustling, if somewhat run-down, central bus station in Tel Aviv, Kebedom Mengistu is busy putting the final touches on the layout of a newspaper he produces each month for Eritrean exiles who now live in Israel.

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It's early September, and less than a week remains before the Jewish high holidays start here. As Mr. Mengistu points out, this particular edition of the newspaper he started just over a year ago is especially crucial.

Sitting on a simple wooden chair in front of a laptop computer, Mengistu, who arrived in Israel four years ago and is still seeking asylum here, explains that the paper must go to the printers today because it contains a special feature detailing what his African-born readers should expect during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year holiday.

"It informs them that there will be no shops open on those days and advises that they should buy all their food in advance," Mengistu says.

His newspaper, called Hadush Zemen (New Century), is printed in Tigrinyan, one of the principle languages of Eritrea. It's aimed at the more than 40,000 Eritreans who have arrived illegally in Israel in the past five years.

The Eritrean government has been accused of multiple human rights abuses by the United Nations Human Rights Council and human rights groups, including requiring indefinite military service, torture, arbitrary detention, and targeting the family members of those who flee Eritrea.

Most Eritreans who have fled to Israel, like Mengistu, made the arduous journey from the East African country through neighboring African states such as Ethiopia, Sudan, or even Libya before crossing Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and sneaking over its border with Israel in search of a better life in the Jewish state.

"I want to provide my people with a place where they can tell their stories about the hardships of this journey and the challenges of their new lives here," explains the former accountant, who has left behind a wife and two children in Eritrea.

The eight-page paper, which he prepares as a PDF so that his Israeli printer does not have to deal with the Tigrinyan script, aims to highlight some of the social problems encountered by his community.

While for the past five years the arrival in Israel of thousands of African migrants – not only from Eritrea but also Ethiopia, Sudan, and numerous other countries – has been kept somewhat under the public radar, a recent spate of violent robberies and rapes has roused fear and anger among native Israelis, many of whom are calling for the immigrants to be deported en masse back to their countries of origin.

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