Ghezae Hagos, 35, was born in Asmara, Eritrea. He left his home country in 1999 when the war was raging with Ethiopia. A journalist and teaching assistant with a law degree from Asmara University, he covered stories in the war zone during the turmoil. Writing for Zemen newspaper, meaning “The Age,” he reported on the biggest war in Africa at that time.
“I left because I got a scholarship to study at McGill University in Montreal. While there, the Eritrean government decided to close all newspapers. My colleagues and my best friend were put in jail. As of today, their whereabouts are still unknown. Eritrea has the greatest number of journalists in jail in the world. When I saw what was happening, I made a refugee claim. I knew there’d be a death warrant for me if I went back.”
Now an inland protection counselor working with refugee claimants at Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, one of the largest settlement agencies for newcomers in Western Canada, Hagos appreciates being able to offer support to others. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to help the way I was helped. It kind of makes sense to my life. I know what it means to miss home.”
His wife and son moved from Montreal to join him in Winnipeg where they now make their home. “Winnipeg is a calm and compact place. Unlike its mercurial weather, the atmosphere is consistently friendly. No wonder they call it ‘Friendly Manitoba.’” Looking at it especially around its downtown makes you marvel at the generosity of Winnipeg to open its gates to welcome people of different races, different backgrounds, but all with the same dream: to live a peaceful and productive life,” he explains.
A human rights activist back home and still now in Canada, it’s not possible for Hagos to leave the past behind. Quoting author William Faulkner, Hagos recites, “We may be through with the past but the past is not through with us.”
“That persecution, sorrow, suffering, you cannot call it the past. Unless men of commitment and dedication advocate for better, things will be worse,” he says.
Hagos co-founded Hidmona, an Eritrean human rights group of Manitoba, to raise awareness of human rights violations in Eritrea, and to educate the public. “We cannot sit idly when we’ve seen what we’ve seen.”
With Eritrea being the second largest refugee-producing country in the world, Hagos is hopeful that the international community will be more involved in calling for human rights and democracy.
“Eritrea has no constitution, no parliament, no freedom whatsoever. The people have no choices.”
Staying active in the community is important for Hagos and, as he explains, “a constant reminder of what I am, a teller of human stories. It’s cathartic.” Hagos recently gave a presentation on the conditions in Eritrea for the local Amnesty International group. He is also the chair of the Association of Eritrean Journalists (AEJE), with members worldwide.
Ghezae Hagos is thankful that being in Canada offers all immigrants new opportunities to pursue whatever dreams they may have. “No matter what, new immigrants can find what they really want to do. They are in a better position to think about that and to achieve their passion.”