When  John Stauffer (Adi Kayieh, Eritrea-Ethiopia, 1966 – 1968) reconnected with one of his students long after returning from his Peace Corps service, he had no idea what was in store.  A helping hand here and there gradually grew to efforts on behalf of the swelling numbers of Eritreans being resettled in the US from refugee camps in Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. It has become a full time volunteer job that is probably more demanding than the career from which he retired some years ago.

Recently things have gotten more serious for Eritreans.  The turmoil in Egypt made the escape route from Eritrea to Sudan and on to Israel across the Sinai desert even more hazardous than it had been, and John found himself mediating between the US and Israeli governments and the UN.  John became involved in efforts to repatriate Eritreans caught in Egypt, trying to help them reach Ethiopia instead of being returned to Eritrea to face arrest or worse.  With the Egyptian government in disarray, law and order in the Sinai now deteriorated further, leading to increased abuse of refugees…killings, rapes, kidnappings.  Finding 3rd countries to accept those who reached safety was now part of his effort.

In recent days the chaos in Libya has trapped an unknown number of Eritreans (see below) in a country where they risk being mistaken for hated African mercenaries hired by Qaddafi and attacked in the street. John is now actively trying to find ways to extricate them from hiding and get them to safety, working with the UN, NGOs and the US Embassy in Addis.

John helped some Eritreans set up a non-profit organization, The America Team for Displaced Eritreans.  Their first goal, and still central to their activities, is to provide support to Eritreans who have been offered asylum in the US.  If  you are interested in helping Eritreans establish new lives in your community or elsewhere in the US, you can email John directly (address below) and find out how you can participate.  In addition to funds — always needed — you might be able to identify a local church or other social service or community resource that could provide support to Eritrean families as they try to put down roots in the US.  Many know little or no English, some families have very young children, some come from rural areas for whom the cultural gap is huge…from a village to a refugee camp in rural Tigre Province to the US, with no stops in between.

Here is how John describes the present situation in Libya, and presents an overview of the work of the America Team.

America Team Assists Eritrean Refugees

in Danger in Libya

March 2, 2011 The current civil unrest and political upheaval in Libya has led to unexpected pain and suffering to Eritrean refugees there, recently estimated to be about 3,000 in number.

The America Team for Displaced Eritreans had been contacted two weeks earlier by representatives of a group of 80 refugees in Libya seeking help in completing the application process for resettlement to the USA. It was at that time that all communications with people in Libya came to a stop as general unrest in the country boiled over into civil rebellion, and telephone and Internet connectivity were stopped by the government in order to hinder planning by the opposition.

The Team then heard recently from the group of 80 who said that because of the rebellion, they were in hiding, running out of food and water, afraid to come out because black Africans were subject to being shot on sight, under assumption that they were mercenaries like those brought in from black African nations. We alerted the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and provided contact information for the group, which is presently waiting for news about possible evacuation.

Also, the Team was put in touch with another, smaller group, which faced similar problems of starvation and security, as they remained holed up in a house. The team conveyed the situation to the IOM and to priests on assignment in Tripoli from the Vatican, and today the group received their first local contact offering assistance.

The America Team for Displaced Eritreans is a U.S.-based non-profit group serving as an NGO which provides support to refugees that have fled the oppression and rapacity of the regime in control of Eritrea. The America Team provides college scholarships to refugees in Africa, urgently needed help to refugees resettled to the USA, and ad hoc support and advocacy to Eritrean refugees where opportunity and resources permit. The Team’s U.S. ID number is 27-2142524 and its web site is www.EritreanRefugees.org Those wishing to contribute to this endeavor can link directly to the donation page at:

http://eritreanrefugees.org/Donations.html

The America Team was formally launched in April, 2010 following 2 years of informal humanitarian work, by two Eritreans living in the U.S., and John Stauffer, who had served as a Peace Corps middle-school teacher in Adi Kayieh, Eritrea-Ethiopia, 1966 – 1968.

The Team has:

· Worked with HIAS/PA and NSC in assisting with refugee resettlement in Pennsylvania, USA

· Encouraged resettlement of over 400 Eritrean refugees in the USA from Djibouti

· Established health-related college scholarships for 34 Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa

· Provided clothing, blankets, furniture, cash assistance and/or advocacy to over 200 refugees, primarily in the USA

· Wrote and published a Tigrinya-English picture dictionary to help new arrivals in the U.S.; has been utilized by 40 resettlement agencies, affiliates and volunteer advocates; Kunama will be added.

· Video-documented eye-witness descriptions of human trafficking and abuse to Eritrean refugees sent from the jails of Egypt to Addis Ababa, at the hands of Eritrean security forces, Rashaida in Sudan and Bedouins un Egypt; released 1½ hour DVD in Tigrinya of same, in January, 2011

· Informed U.S. and U.N. agencies of details learned about human trafficking

· Worked with UNHCR in providing aid and advocacy for Eritrean individuals and family units in Ethiopia and Djibouti

· Prepared and published numerous articles with photos, of Eritrean refugees arriving in Ethiopia from Egypt; and of groups preparing for departure to 3rd countries for resettlement

· Visited Shimelba camp twice to provide cash and material assistance, and establish working relationship with the camp

· Advocated for Eritrean refugees in Israel, and established relationship with hundreds of individuals there

· Created awareness of the Eritrean plight through newspaper and magazine articles, contacts and meetings with various human rights organizations, Congressional staff people, Rotary International, schools, VOA, etc.

· Begun planning for a conference workshop for volunteers in the USA who routinely assist multiple Eritrean Eritrean refugee families and individuals in a given town or metro area.