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.
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Those working to help the migrant community, however, decry such sweeping actions, arguing that Israel, a country essentially built by Jewish refugees from Europe, has a responsibility to help other refugees in need. They blame the lack of a clear government policy to help refugees and asylum seekers for many of the social problems the country faces.Skip to next paragraph
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Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, which provides Eritreans and other non-Israeli residents with skills and information to function in Israel, says that Mengistu's newspaper is just what the Eritrean community needs at this stage.
"The majority of the people only speak their own language, and while they might know a bit of Hebrew, they certainly cannot read or write in Hebrew," she says.
People arriving from Africa have to contend with a new culture and a different mentality, which often leads to misunderstandings with Israelis, Ms. Rozen says. Many immigrants are not aware of the rights they have or do not have in Israel.
Rozen lauds Mengistu's attempt to tackle these issues, calling the newspaper a real effort by Eritreans to "genuinely adjust themselves to life in Israel.
"I really hope it will help to minimize resentment against them, too," she says.
Mengistu hopes his newspaper can play an important role in that regard, he says.
"We have no political voice here at all, and we have no real status," he says. "This newspaper allows for conversation among the [Eritrean] community, and also lets Israelis know that we are not a threat, but, in fact, if we are treated right, we could one day become ambassadors for Israel."
Mengistu's newspaper also tries to reach those beyond the Eritrean community. There is a page in English for other members of the migrant community and one in Hebrew, written by veteran local journalist Lily Galili.
"I really believe that [the African immigrants and asylum seekers] were hoping to find the Holy Land when they arrived in Israel, or at least a place that would help them," Ms. Galili says.
She has been impressed by Mengistu's integrity and his enthusiasm in trying to help his community.
"I also wanted to help these people, and the best way for me is to contribute with my experience as a journalist," says Galili, a former reporter for the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz.
Impressed by Mengistu's work on his newspaper, Galili has helped him to secure a grant from the New Israel Fund, a foundation that supports community-based projects. The donation has allowed Mengistu to meet his printing costs and the growing demand for the paper, currently with a circulation of about 1,000.
He's now in the process of distributing his newspaper to other Israeli cities where Eritreans live.
"It looks like we are going to be here for a while, and it is time for us to learn how to live here properly, to get creative, and to fight some of the stigmas against us," says Mengistu, as he makes some finishing touches to the latest edition.
While his main objective is to provide fellow Eritreans with a better understanding of Israeli life, Mengistu would also like to use the newspaper as a forum to warn other Eritreans that life in exile can be tough.
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