From Israel To ISIS: How A Search For A Safe Haven Took A Wrong Turn : Parallels Tesfai Kidane, an Eritrean migrant, made his way to Israel, where he was detained. He returned to Africa. It's not clear what happened next, but he was killed recently by the Islamic State in Libya.
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From Israel To ISIS: How A Search For A Safe Haven Took A Wrong Turn

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From Israel To ISIS: How A Search For A Safe Haven Took A Wrong Turn

From Israel To ISIS: How A Search For A Safe Haven Took A Wrong Turn

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That gives us an idea of the bigger picture there. Let's zoom in now on a single story, a single migrant, in search of a safe place. He left the African nation of Eritrea to escape persecution or earn money or maybe both. Many Eritreans take boats to Europe, but this man went to Israel, and that's where things went wrong. From Israel, NPR's Emily Harris retraces his journey.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Tesfai Kidane came to Israel in 2007. He was about 22 years old. His cousin Mesi Fisahaie met him here.

MESI FISAHAIE: He was very nice man. He was very quiet man. He didn't disturb anybody. You cannot feel that he's there.

HARRIS: She says Kidane was drafted unwillingly into the Eritrean army when he was 14 or 15 years old. Soldiers arrested him when he left barracks to attend his brother's wedding.

FISAHAIE: After the time that he spent in the prison, from there he ran away to Ethiopia, from Ethiopia to Sudan, from Sudan to Egypt and Sinai and Israel, and he came to Israel.

HARRIS: Some 40,000 Africans took that route before Israel built a high-tech fence along its border with Sinai. Like many of them, Kidane worked menial jobs. He made friends, but missed his family, his cousin says.

FISAHAIE: He really loved his family, and he missed his mother a lot.

HARRIS: Fisahaie talks about her cousin in the past tense because he's dead. He was killed by an ISIS affiliate in Libya a few weeks ago. The group posted a video showing militants shooting or beheading some two dozen people who they called Ethiopian Christians. Friends recognized Kidane in the video and at least two other Eritreans who left Israel sometime last year. Why did Kidane leave the stability of Israel?

MARK REGEV: No one is forcing anyone to go.

HARRIS: Mark Regev is spokesperson for Israel's government. For a number of years, people from Eritrea were allowed to stay. But Israeli policy now is to encourage them to go somewhere else. Two-thousand were moved to a detention center in the remote desert, where they have to stay every night.

REGEV: If someone was a bona fide refugee fleeing persecution, they would have no problem whatsoever in being in a detention facility where there are health services, accommodation - obviously food and all that - where they'll be safe.

HARRIS: If someone skips out on detention or has an asylum claim denied, the next step is prison. But Israel offers an alternative - $3,500 cash and an international plane ticket. Israel won't confirm where those planes go, but it seems to be Uganda or Rwanda.

AMAN BEYENE: We have every single story - what happened to our brothers - left to Uganda and Rwanda.

HARRIS: Aman Beyene sits in the hot, dry parking lot outside the detention center. He was sent here 14 months ago after six years in Tel Aviv. He has a letter from Israel's Interior Ministry promising Eritreans who leave Israel will get everything they need, including documents to stay where they are sent. Beyene says it's not true. Academic and advocacy research support what he has heard.

BEYENE: Nothing - they will give you nothing. You have no status and no papers because when they find themselves without nothing there, they give up. They're depressed. And they decide to try their way through Europe.

HARRIS: That, he thinks, is what his friend Tesfai Kidane did after a stint in the Israeli detention center, then the prison, then taking the cash and the one-way ticket. But the ISIS affiliate found him along the way. Beyene blames Eritrea, ISIS and also Israel for Kidane's death. Refugee law expert Ruvi Ziegler with the Israel Democracy Institute says blame is not clear-cut.

RUVI ZIEGLER: Israel is not directly responsible for them being beheaded by ISIS nor is for that matter Uganda or Rwanda. But Israel has facilitated this by not ensuring that it's sending somebody to a place where they may have to be what's referred to in the literature as refugees in orbit. They may have to continue seeking refuge.

HARRIS: Beyene may face the choice his friend did soon. Israel recently rejected his asylum claim.

BEYENE: I'm preparing to go to jail, to be locked up in the prison because what am I going to do, especially after we heard what happened to Tesfai?

HARRIS: Most everyone in Israel's Eritrean community, it seems, knows Tesfai Kidane's journey ended at the hands of ISIS. Emily Harris, NPR News.

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