Series: Extraordinary Eritreans - 
Article published the Sunday 07 April 2013 - Latest update : Sunday 14 April 2013

Fleeing Eritrea's bombs to fight racism in Australia

Berhan Ahmed campaigning for Melbourne state seat.
Berhan Ahmed You Tube Channel

By Devi Rajaram in Melbourne

About 2,000 Eritreans live in Australia, many of them granted asylum after being tortured by President Isaias Afewerki's regime. Despite the emotional and sometimes physical scars they bear, some have become prominent figures in Australian society. Berhan Ahmed is one of them. He is the first person of African descent to run for a seat in parliament.

The relaxed scene in the back garden of Ahmed's family home in a quiet suburb of Melbourne couldn't be further from the conflict he fled to come to Australia.

Extraordinary Eritreans series - Berhan Ahmed
by Devi Rajaram in Melbourne

He remembers "big fighter planes from Russia" bombing his home town.

"I left at the age of about 15," Ahmed recalls. "I did my Grade 11 and 12 in Sudan at the refugee camp. The UN was offering scholarships for refugees and I was given scholarship to study in Alexandria University, to study agricultural science."

He applied to work on trams. "I lied to them, to be honest. I said I was working as a tram conductor in Sudan. So, from then, I started to study and I did my masters at La Trobe University in animal science, got myself to Melbourne University, did my PhD and then I got a job at Melbourne University and that's where I am, still."

Ahmed says his early days in Melbourne were a struggle. But it was this period that motivated him to stand up for his community, as well as other minority groups in Australia, against what he sees as racial discrimination.

It didn't take long before he began to be noticed within Australian society and state politics.

In 2004, he was the first African-born Australian to run for parliamentary office. And in 2009, he was awarded the Victorian Australian of the Year Award in recognition of his humanitarian efforts.

"I keep putting myself at the national debate of all issues, as a Muslim, as an African, as a migrant and as a black man," Ahmed says. "I would like to stand as an independent. Issues that affect my background, my community and broader society, including the Aborigines, which is an injustice. It's always seen within the prism of the white man. Now, we need to see it differently."

Customers at a bakery specialising in bread from the Horn of Africa have warm words for Berhan Ahmed.

"He is a uniting figure," says one. "A uniting figure and symbol of Africa; a voice for the voiceless."

"He's a passionate person that would like to work or give his time for African issues,"  says another.

Ahmed plans to reach out to his people in Eritrea as well.

"Looking into the challenges facing Eritreans, particularly the refugees being a market for body organs everywhere, I'm proposing by end of 2013 or early 2014 to organise an international conference addressing an Eritrean and international solution," he says.

tags: Australia - Eritrea - Immigration - politics - Refugees - Reports
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Comments (5)

In the last statement Mr.

In the last statement Mr. Ahmed made, it is clear the the harvesting of horgans is taking a toll, and the coauses are to be searched in the international criminal organizations that are implicated in this traffic.
It is recent news that some 10 Israeli citizens have been arrested in connection with the issue in Sinai, where also Eritreans have been killed for organ harvesting.

If only the media outlets would be more objective about the reasons why people migrate, it would already be a much better journalism.
In regards to everything else, please try at least to get the numbers and fact right.
With regards
Vittorio Silvestri, Eritrean citizen living in Australia

Up and until today, Ethiopia

Up and until today, Ethiopia is still occupying parts of Eritrea defying a peace accord signed and sealed in Algeria. The EEBC issued a final border ruling in 2003, but its decision was rejected by Ethiopia. As of August 2004, the border question remained in dispute, although a tentative peace remains in place. By November 2007 the EEBC concluded the demarcation phase of the Algiers Agreement.[1] As of that date, Ethiopia has not withdrawn its troops from those positions on the Eritrean side of the demarcated border.
being the country under occupation and in a no peace no war situation,some people decide to seek fortune outside of the country, but due to restrictions imposted by western countries on entry visa requirements, the only way to get there is via illegal immigration or refugee status. Either way, it is very similar to what other African people and not are doing on a daily basis: trying to get across the Mediterranean Sea and get into Europe, mainly England where they can be assured more benefits that anywhere else in Europe.
With regards
Vittorio Silvestri, Eritrean citizen living in Australia

To be fair, there are a

To be fair, there are a couple of things that are incorrect.
The Eritrean community in Australia is much larger than 2000 stated in this article, and the majority arrived here well before the country was liberated from the Ethiopian occupation.
It is true that most of them arrived here on refugee visas, but being that during the struggle for independence, it is a false statement that they are here because they fled the country due to the present government. It is actually the contrary: they fled Eritrea during the times that Menghistu's Dergue was in power under the supervision of the USSR.
Since 2003, year when Eritrea gained independence, few Eritreans left the country and more did that since 2008 when Ethiopia again leashed war against Eritrea with the pretext of a scuffle on the border.
With regards
Vittorio Silvestri, Eritrean citizen living in Australia

Wrong statement. there are

Wrong statement. there are many more than 2000 Eritreans living in Australia, and most of them arrived here during the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea.
A very small number came recently and not even directly from Eritrea, but from Sudan or Kenya where they have been living for years trying to get a refugee status.
If you ask the Australian government how many refugee status for political reasons have been granted to Eritreans you will understand that are very few, much less than the one granted to Ethiopians for the same reason.
You are very biased when it comes to Eritrea and it shows with your lack of information

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