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Petros’ story: “Never Stop Fighting For What You Believe In”

Ozichi Emeziem “Never stop fighting for what you believe in and never give up on your dreams.” That's Petros Tesfagherghis' advice – and the belief he lives by. Petros is modest and unassuming. Asked about his own successes

Ozichi Emeziem

“Never stop fighting for what you believe in and never give up on your dreams.” That’s Petros Tesfagherghis’ advice – and the belief he lives by.
Petros is modest and unassuming. Asked about his own successes and difficulties – including twice fleeing his home country of Eritrea – he turns the question away from himself and back to social justice.
His persistent passion for social justice is closely tied to events and experiences in Eritrea, which reveals some reasoning behind his adamant belief.
Born in the capital, Asmara, Petros comes from a middle-class family who owned a leather factory. For most of his youth Eritrea was under the rule of neighbouring Ethiopia. However, by the early 1960s groups were pushing for independence and started an armed struggle.
He too joined these efforts through the university student movement against dictatorship while studying in Addis Ababa for a degree in business administration in the late-’60s. It was, he recalls, “the most radical movement in Africa”. He joined in the belief that “if a democratic government installed itself in Ethiopia then the case of Eritrea would be solved peacefully.”
But democracy was not yet in sight. Instead, Ethiopia’s autocratic Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted by the army in 1974, “which then hijacked the momentum of the movement and declared itself military junta government”.
In 1973 Petros returned to Eritrea from university to manage the family firm, but the military dictatorship became increasingly repressive. He witnessed “security forces shooting youth in cold blood who they suspected to be sympathisers of the armed struggle”.

Stirred by the frequent injustices, he joined an underground cell of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), which was fighting the dictatorship. Smuggling goods such as medicines for Eritrean fighters and injured civilians and fundraising from patriotic businesses was risky. Capture meant torture and death. On 3 March 1975 one of his friends in the underground cell was captured by the security forces. Petros escaped to the outskirts of the city in order to avoid the same fate. After 3 days news came that his friend had died during torture.
Petros was sent to the Sahel Camp in the liberated area and began to train with the rebels. However, the dust at the camp worsened an eye condition and he left for the UK, initially for medical treatment and later sought asylum.
Even from afar he continued to do whatever he could to help his people and country. He got an MA in social policy in developing countries from the London School of Economics. Then for 17 years worked with the Eritrean Relief Association helping Eritrean refugees adjust to life in a new country as well as soliciting aid for areas controlled by the EPLF in Eritrea.
After Eritrean forces defeated the Ethiopian army in 1991 he returned to Asmara to help rebuild the country. He worked at the Commercial Bank of Eritrea and wrote for Eritrean publications. Sadly, he found himself witnessing repression again, this time at the hands of President Isaias Afewerki, who led the ELPF in the fight for independence but emerged as a dictator unwilling to subject himself to election.
Thus one of the issues for which Petros raised awareness passionately – then and now – is mandatory indefinite military conscription which started during the border war with Ethiopia and remains in place. He is of the opinion that the ulterior motive was to control the youth, preventing them to rise up to oppose the gross human rights violations in Eritrea.  In Eritrea, 12th grade, the last school leaving year, is taken in Sawa Military camp under the military regime with no academic freedom.
In his eyes and many others, including United Nations Inquiry Commission for Eritrea this indefinite military conscription is slavery. It involves gross human rights violation as those conscripted are given unliveable wages, forced to do hard labour, and subjected to violence including beatings, prison, rape, or threats of disappearance.
He believes the repression is widespread, destroying the fabric of the Eritrean society and together with arbitrary imprisonment and lawlessness, has led many young people to flee the country.
Petros himself ended up leaving again. As a writer who openly criticized the government he began to feel at risk of the government seeking revenge, especially with the arrest of G15, a faction within government whose members have since been imprisoned for advocating democracy. They were arrested on 18 September 2001 together with the editors of private papers like those to which Petros contributed. Sadly, it was the end of freedom of expression.
He left because “once [the government] realised there would be no counter-offensive then the witch-hunt would begin and we would be the victims”.
Returning to the UK did not separate him from the new struggle for social justice. Instead, he committed himself to raising awareness of the plight of Eritreans who leave the country and on their journeys fall victim to kidnapping networks which ransom or kill them, or steal their organs.
He continues to advocate for change in his homeland while working to support Eritreans in the UK, though such activities are voluntary and hampered by lack of money. He was the secretary of the Eritrean Refugee Support Association (ERSA) that has merged with Eritrea Focus (EF). Eritrea Focus is an organisation that exposes human Rights abuses in Eritrea and has commissioned research on UK corporate complicity in human rights abuses there. The organisation also works to offer skills training and education to refugees in the UK. One of its recent successes is to ensure the formation of an All Parliamentary Party group for Eritrea (APPG), which has already led to a debate in the House of Lords.
Petros also is the secretary of Eritrean Elders Welfare Association – a charity that combats loneliness and isolation among Eritrean Elders in the UK.  He works as an interpreter, speaking English, Amharic and Tigrinya, and is active in other organisations, including Migrant Voice, Migrants Organise, and Citizens UK.
He says fear of the long arm of the Eritrean government through informers is rampant in the community abroad, which is also facing social problems as children grow up in a society and culture different from their parents’ expectations. Internationally, he feels that the European Union and the United Nations have avoided tackling the root causes which send Eritrean refugees into exile but are more concerned with stemming the flow of refugees, who have already put their lives at risk.
Nevertheless, his commitment to social justice has not wavered, which is why he keeps fighting for what he believes in and has not given up on his dreams.
And though he deflects personal questions in order to talk about humanitarian issues, he is a husband of 33 years and a proud father to a daughter and son who are both working graduates. When he is not writing, translating, or helping organisations, he likes to relax while watching a football match or a film, and is rather fond of the gym.
Petros has witnessed many things in his life from violence to successes. Yet, his devotion to human rights is inspiring and also comforting. In the midst of growing instability in global affairs it is consoling to meet a person whose engagement has not faltered. His humanitarian work continues so long as there is work to be done.

Source: Migrant Voice

Review overview
  • alem October 12, 2017

    Ertra does not have a room for beautiful people like u at the moment but for ugly dark evil hearted ones like monkey and iseyas. There is one day hopefully soon that all the good people will come back and the dark hearted evil group are defeated.

    • ehlifna aynehab October 13, 2017

      leave this monkey and that monkey and blabla to the Caucacians, stay focused on the topic of politics,.It is ridiculous calling your fellow African man a monkey.Is the kettle calling the lead black and vice versa ahhh…waaaw…it is hellerious….. blind and illitrate ,how do you describe beauty,by the way?so do you think your genes resemble more of a pig????KKKKKKKkkkkkk.

      • alem October 13, 2017

        Beauty is like yemane monkey? What do u mean lets leave it for the white? U are living in white’s land by choice. Right? So suck it and live with it. Bhgdf tewaridna!

      • alem October 13, 2017

        Beauty is like yemane monkey? What do u mean lets leave it for the white? U are living in white’s land by choice. Right? So suck it and live with it. Bhgdf tewaridna! I am also focused on the topic. It is about a good citizen who fought injustices by the derg and continued to this date. Is that out of topic to u or u are simply expressing ur anger b/s yemane is insulted.

    • TesfaldetAbraha October 13, 2017

      እንታይ፡ገሩካ ብማስያ ትጸርፎ ቢቲፉል ፒፕል ላይክ ዩ ትብሉ አማላኽ እዩ ህበይ አምሲልዎ እምበር ፈትዩ አይኮነን

  • Asmara Eritrea October 12, 2017

    Petros is patriotic of a rare kind – an exemplary individual by all accounts. If only all of us can work for our country as hard as Petros does, the dictator would be in a 6 feet hell hole by now.

    Eritrea forever, death to dictatorship.

  • Kiki Tzeggai October 12, 2017

    Petros, this article fits you perfectly and yet does not say all you did for Eritrea and ready to work some more.

    While I was growing up in Asmara, your family’s house (Enda Abboi Baatai) was my own teenager field and I walked from the kitchen to the living room and claimed it as my own father’s house.. I went in and out of your family’s house. You were always the serious one. I and your brother Solomon (my partner in crime) would slowly put Abbona’s car on neutral and I would open your family’s house large gate and we would go off with the car. Our time frame was Abboy’s afternoon nap. Rush to pick up at least 2 of my brothers, some girlfriends and go around for a cappuccino. Sometimes we would be late and insist with our Abbona that he was actually the one that left the car parked outside the gate.
    All along, you knew Petros, but let us vent our young arrogance and have so much fun driving our father’ car.
    That car had so much potential and was steadfast at any curb of Asmara’ sidewalks. It eluded any mechanic diagnosis after so much more driving by us than Abbona or you, the serious brother. since then concerned abut the well-being of our country.
    After Independence I paid a visit to Abbona and after kneeling down in front of him for a blessing, I confessed all the time we would slide his car out of the gate without his permission or knowledge. Abbona said he heard us at each time and prayed we would be back safe and on time. You knew as well Petros haweey!
    Then I told you and Abeba. We laughed and still remember those drive-around on Abbona’s car. The seats so comfortable to hold all of us. The photos still in my albums …we looked so good and you Petros Jigna, still the serious one was only concerned we would be safe.
    I dare you – once in Asmara- to make it and “slide” Abbona’s vintage car out of that gate the way we did.
    Bless you and know that I still look up to you. Eritrea and Eritreans do as well.

  • AHMED SALEH !!! October 12, 2017

    Kiki. Tseggay
    Interesting comment . I guess we grew up at the same
    neighborhood . You remember FOTORO our area
    barber shop ?

    • Kiki Tzeggai October 12, 2017

      No Ahmed. I came all the way from Amba Galliano and when I was late …Petros was the only one Abboy trusted to drive me back home. Our brother Petros is truly the glue that holds it together to this day. And a reference to so many of us about Eritrea’s facts and history. The bright person in the group.
      Ahmed, soon with peace in Asmara and all of us gaining back the right to feel our land beneath our feet, join me and Petros for a race from your neighborhood to Amba Galliano. Inch’Allah.

    • Dani amiche October 13, 2017

      Enda FOTORO barber shop was actually in sintataato (68) area opposite enda Tesfamariam grocery and near the police station. Petros’s area (Enda aboy BaAtay) I believe was in Gezamanda Tilian! The old Fotoro barbar shop is now an empty and run down house with some Listro boys chairs outside by the front entrance.
      Petros has aged a lot since the days of ERA – Eritrean Relief Association of London but it is as expected with all the sadness of Eritrean situation, Petros is a gentleman ambassador of Eritrea.

      • AHMED SALEH !!! October 13, 2017

        No , their house was next the police
        station which is close to grocery of
        Aboy Tesfanariam . His brother Dawit
        was my friend in elementary school
        and I used to go inside their house .

  • k.tewolde October 13, 2017

    Petros you are a good man indeed,original.I have a story of my childhood that so many can relate growing in the heart of the capital,the good old days,when our mothers called out on each other in the middle of the afternoon to share a coffee ceremony and shoo us to play outside,the aroma of incense bellowing and feeling the air,the cacophony of innocent children playing marbles,salvatti ,handay and chirchir….fathers coming from their long trip in their N3 trucks and us greeting them by kissing their hands and knees and they in turn giving us their love and blessing…it was simple life but full of authenticity which reflects our cultural decency and way of life.How did we end up like this?! a son calling his father,ATA SEBA”AY. Tyranny is tyranny whether it comes in colonial or domestic form and it is good news to have people like Petros still fighting it despite the odds. HGDEF tainted and desecrated the face of our homeland but not for so long.

    • Gezae October 14, 2017

      Your relations looks like social affiliation or social stratification

  • Yakob October 13, 2017

    Eritrea is very cursed that it did not get people like Petros, or Deqi Beatay to be its leaders and advisors. This family is one of the best roll models to the unfortunate Eritrea that is now a failed state.
    This is an incredible family that I was fortunate enough to meet his father in 2016 in their retail store – for everything leather — behind Asmara Cathedrale with my dad whom he calls “Aya”.
    This family is so gentle, humble and magnanimous, that their young domestic house worker girl was treated like their own daughter when she was married two years ago in which my parents were invited to the wedding. I would have said a lot about his great sister Abeba, brothers … contribution and dedication to Eritrea for nothing to get back ….
    Thank you Petros

  • Yitbarekh October 13, 2017

    Why all these praises for a failed husband and weak man who never did a one day hard man’s job.
    His hard working former wife (Elsa) single handed brought up their children while petros was too weak too sick (unemployed for too long – complaining and excusing of poor eyes and of poor back ache), up to this days.
    His old father may have been a very strong, kind and successful business man but not his petroses and pawloses.
    Poor old Elsa had to kick him out of their flat for being a weak, poor unemployed skint and also as inadequate father.
    Unless he is dead and you have to say nice things as accustomed in our tradition for dead ones, he is a just a failer.

    • Yitbarekh October 13, 2017

      Sorry my mistake; I meant to say Not his Petros & Pawlos sons of ato Tesfagiorgis, old Asmarino

    • alem October 13, 2017

      Learn how to put two words together first. Am surprised people asking u to list your achievements. What achievements can we expect from such wudak ateababya zibedelo hatela listro nay iseyas.

      • Yitbarekh October 13, 2017

        Your kind of dull parrots won’t do any good or harm whatever side they are. People have sensed that you are not in their caliber and have learned to ignore you as a nuisance old parrot always parroting
        I can also see you trying hard to spark an imaginary existence that is different than parroting, Drop dead son of a bitch. If you ever dare to insult me again then you’ll get my full insults too, that’s guaranteed.

        • Haregot October 13, 2017

          Yitbarekh, just ignore “robot” alem. Robots that resemble humans are known as androids; however, many robots aren’t built on the human model. His lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized by a faulty machine controlled and therefore he is all over the places hysterically.

  • Yitbarekh October 13, 2017

    You guys, please could you kindly tell me what are the real achievements of Petros to become or to qualify him as an ambassador or as the next leader of Eritrea? Why are you guys so weak that you believe on individuals without
    checking their background and their qualifications? You all sound so desperate for anyone to lead you back to Eritrea! Well, Petros and his brother Pawlos are not top politicians with top experience and honest hard workings.

    • Dani amiche October 13, 2017

      Ato Yitbarekh,
      We would also like to know what your real achievements are in your life, just a short list of your major achievements would be sufficient enough even just one or two major achievements.
      Yitbarekh, I don’t know how to say it in tigrigna or if you already know it, but it is something like this: ‘Remove the big object “QuliEkha” in your own eye before you talk about the straw in your
      neighbor eye’. Please just concentrate on your own achievements in your life. Thanks.

    • k.tewolde October 13, 2017

      Typical Hgdef mentality,assassinating the character,who gives a rat tallying the qualifications of the writer,he is not asking you for a job.This article could have been written by a homeless Eritrean,the content is what matters.Please trash this hgdef school of thought,every time you open your mouth it is halitosis galore,it stinks.

      • Yitbarekh October 13, 2017

        You stink too retarded animal and where is the content of the matter or article?
        You too must be like Petros a weak lazy unemployed, poor skint and inadequate person seeking for some handouts or attentions!
        Worse than Petros, you are a con man, that is for sure. Your ego so ahead of you it seems just like the other dull parrot you not worth my time. Yes you are trash too.

        • alem October 14, 2017

          Do u know rifraf wudak seb yitibareki! They look like u in all aspects. They asked u genuine and legitimate question to list your achievements since u underestimated petros’s achievements. I knew u as wudak as one can be has nothing to list. I buchered u deliberately knowing u were going to reply to it and hide from others as if u did not read their coments.guss what? U did not try to state a single achievement b/s you have none.

          • Yitbarekh October 15, 2017

            You are really son of a bitch scum bag, come back for more and I will keep giving you straight without any hesitation or reservation. As a son of a bitch you are probably used to more insults and beatings so you will not be disappointed with superman Yitbarekh.

  • Gezae October 13, 2017

    I know Solomon and Wedi balila both were my class mates from 5th grade to 8th grade at Bet Giorgis but I don’t know Petros and I had not any clue about his back ground. Any way reading his basis I would say the praises are too exuberant. So please before we voice our praise or positive comments, lets stop and ask ourselves, because praise a person more than generaly agree upon is dangerous. So, we need to be careful, and think when we give someone praise that they truly don’t think he/she deserves; because we are making a statement about right or wrong. Hence, I would say clearly we can only give sincere praise for good work and someone taking the right path, if/when we know which work and path are right

  • k.tewolde October 13, 2017

    This culture of intrusion,probing into people’s life,sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong..along with lying,bragging,yearning at something that doesn’t belong to you,false empty pride….these are the ingredients that make the hgdef character and we have an abundance of it, if a good character appears on scene the hgdef bunch are waiting to shred him/her apart whether he/she is a politician,musician,philanthropist or a mere everyday honest to goodness person.Nobody belongs in the spotlight except the one they adore and worship.It is a cult in every sense of the word,it is a blind fellowship heading to destination unknown.Praying for the nation everyday.

    • Gezae October 14, 2017

      October 14, 2017

      Mr. K. tewelde lets summed/embrace here- leave aside PIA ; do you really want to correspond Petros with Yemane Gebreab; or Wedi Gerhatu which is impossible..?

      Leave reply

      • alem October 14, 2017

        U can not compare a murderer with innocent ordinary citizen. That is what u are asking gezae hasawi hgdf.

        • k.tewolde October 14, 2017

          We are not comparing apples and oranges here Mr.Gezae,it is not individual contest either,however the trio you mentioned above and their disciples had over a quarter of a century on the job training to get it right without the consent of the Eritrean people,do you like what you see? is this what you hoped for? are you fully satisfied by the outcome? was this your vision of Eritrea on the 26th anniversary of its statehood? if your answer is yes,they need you there desperately, you will fit right in.

        • Gezae October 14, 2017

          So call him General like what a days ago one awrajawi gave for Sihel BitseAmlak Hadami General

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