*Zeresenay Esmias Testfatsion fled his home country of Eritrea to seek asylum in the U.S., arriving in January 2017. Conditions in Eritrea are deplorable. In 2017, the U.N. recommended publicly that the President of Eritrea be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Zeresenay’s asylum petition was denied; nevertheless, he was held in detention for 17 months. Zeresenay told a friend, in a letter that he was optimistic he would be released. Imagine his despair on discovering he was being deported back to Eritrea. It was there, on a stopover in Cairo, Egypt, on June 8, that his body was discovered in a shower area at the airport. Rather than face the horror of returning to Eritrea, Zeresnay, 34, had decided to take his own life. — *Christine Ho, Founding Director of Friends of Broward Detainees.
After learning of Zeresnay’s suicide, Benjamin deLeeuwerk composed this poem in his honor. Following the poem, Benjamin explains why he felt compelled to write about Zeresnay.### In Lament for Zeresenay
by Bejamin deLeeuwerk
Do you know what Eritrea is?
If you do, do you know where?
If you’d respond, “No, I don’t think I do.”
Could you bring yourself to care?
My name is Zeresenay Esmias Testfatsion
It is hard to say or spell, I know
But I am completely human, no more or less than you
And a place of peace and freedom, is a place I wanted to go
I’d like for you to understand how I came to hang this rope
See, my home country’s government is an organization of oppression
Safety is scarce, and liberty is in short supply
I was scared and fearful, this is my humble confession
Maybe you think it is weak, to flee for your own life
But have you ever experienced torture or grave threat?
It is common and real, not a fake news story
Fortunately for me, this plight I had not yet met
Because there was a dream of hope that for the persecuted existed
A country that for so long had been a beacon of possibility
It was a nation that was begun by immigrants, similar to me
But something has happened, that now denies the legacy of opportunity
You have never met me, yet you presume I possess some intended evil
Is it such an evil to make every effort to avoid death and seek life?
Please tell me with honesty, would you not do the same in my position?
It must be glorious to be born into a place with autonomy so rife!
I do not ask for you to remove self-protecting defenses
But please relight the beacon, what a legacy you can leave
Do make America great again! Be that once old friend
Of this mutually beneficial joy, let’s not ourselves bereave
I am an immigrant; does that word sound dirty to you?
‘FOREIGN’ … ‘IMMIGRANT’ … does it truly taste so bad?
Not one of us got to choose where we were conceived or born
If our places had been switched, would that make you sad?
By fortune, I entered into your lovely country
To request asylum, to search for some relief
I was detained in jail, or as you call, a ‘center’
For a time, that I prayed daily, would be brief
For over a year, and by way of two different states
I remained with hope in the confines of my cage
Without comfort, and cold, but I was so thankful to be safe
I was finally going to get to write a new page
But then without warning or alert to anyone
There was an unexpected command for me to be deported
To the very geographical epitome of all my earthly fears
Back to Eritrea?! America, will you reject me, old friend?
I am as good as dead, as everything presently appears
Is there no longer compassion — enough to go around?
I feel sick, I feel anxious, I barely have strength to stand
Tell me how I wronged you, I swear to undo it all!
I beg of you, don’t let me slip out of your protective hand
It was never my intent to construct an ultimatum
But if I must be exiled, then I am already dead
If last words are still allowed, I have some I’d like to say
A humble, tear-soaked plea, before I make my final bed
It is fact, that we all bleed this same red blood
No one has chosen their life or place to be born to
In the name of love, please do not dismiss my story
May it compel you to consider a change in your point of view
You have vast expanses of land, and thorough resources
You have it within you to be generous, I truly believe
The oppressed not wanting to take, but to share in your freedom
You can from their suffering, finally grant them reprieve
The risk for liberation took my everything, my all
I hate this predicament, I feel trapped, hopelessly ensnared
I feel I must elect to relinquish all hope of a future like yours
A noose for my freedom… If only compassion had been dared
Author’s note: Though there is no shortage of disparaging and saddening news, for whatever reason, this one story remained with me and kept returning to my mind. It causes my heart an unpleasant ache. I do not have much to offer, but I enjoy writing and value the potential for words — which can carry much weight and force — to be used for beauty and good. So over the last few weeks, as I have thought of this man and had time, I have been piecing together some prose, and I would like to share it with you all. My hope is that it will somehow pay honor or tribute to Zeresenay and his life, and that with some solidarity in love and cause, it will be an encouragement to you who labor for a better world and opportunity for immigrants who come to our country.