East African deportee takes life while being transported back to home country

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Deaths in immigrant detention centers rise as immigration policy under the Trump Administration continues to show zero tolerance towards humane conditions and treatment.

While in transit back to Eritrea, Zeresenay Ermias Testfatsion, 34, was found unresponsive in the shower area of a detention center at Cairo International Airport on June 8 by Egyptian authorities. His death was ruled an apparent suicide, says Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a press release.

An immigrant who was being deported by US officials for attempting to enter into the country without the proper paperwork, Testfatsion sat in two US detention centers since his arrest at the Hidalgo, Texas Port on Feb. 2, 2017. For over a year, Testfatsion tried to acquire political asylum. In an overwhelmed court system dealing with an increased immigrant caseload, Testfatsion’s trial resulted in a deportation ruling. However, he appealed when ICE officials failed to send him back to Eritrea within a 90 day window. The courts denied his appeal.

According to family friend, Bereket Sibhat, US authorities did not alert family or friends of his transfer back to Eritrea. In an interview with Democracy Now, Sibhatu said that his family has many questions that remain unanswered.

The loved ones, they want to find out how it would happen [that he would] kill himself, who [would] give him [something] to hang [himself] in the bathroom. At the same time, I just talked yesterday to one of his cousins [as to] why his body [still] remain[s in Egypt] — [his] body is still in Cairo. [And his] Mommy is waiting every single day in the airport.

Sibhatu’s inquiry draws concern to the rising deaths of immigrants during the migrant process after they are captured by authorities. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration pointed out that some immigrants deaths occur in detention.

A torn nation-state

Like thousands of Eritreans who have fled their homes to escape a North African government known to be repressive, Testfatsion said in court records that he immigrated “for fear of returning to his country.”

The United Nations (UN) reported that Eritrean deportees face harsh consequences such as torture, lifetime military service or indefinite imprisonment if they return.  Fox News reports that Eritreans are considered “traitors” by the Administration. According to the Washington Post, there is a shoot-to-kill policy along the Eritrean border.

Nonetheless, since 2017, the US has been in discussion with Eritrea to accept those returned.

Eritrea has been in an ongoing war with Ethiopia since its 1993 independence. To continue battles, the country forces citizens to work for free. As well, men serve in the military for life. The constant state of war has left Eritrea absent of a sustainable economy, with limited paying jobs.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea cited a list of human rights abuses by Eritrea’s authoritarian government that has caused a mass exile. According to DW Academie, 5,000 people flee Eritrea a month and is termed “the fastest emptying country” in the world by the Wall Street Journal.

Many political asylum seekers use one of the routes through Libya that takes them to Southern Europe or have sought refuge in Israel, crossing dangerous borders to escape a oppressive Eritrean regime. Over the years, both regions have grown unwelcoming. Earlier this year, Israeli legislatures agreed in a policy to deport all Africans to Rwanda.

As borders close, the options decrease for Africans seeking political asylum. Over the years, the US-Mexico border has become a viable option. Testfatsion makes up a smaller, yet visible contingency of Africans and other Black immigrants such as Haitians, Hondurans and Belizeans, who use the US-Mexico divide to enter the United States.

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