John Stauffer leads The America Team for Displaced Eritreans
Since 2004, John Stauffer (Adi Kayeh, Akele Gazai state, Eritrea 1966-68) has been involved in Eritrean causes, both political and humanitarian. His interest in Eritrea began as a teacher of science and English in the B.G. Lorenzo Tazaz Junior Secondary School in Adi Kayeh, where he became friends with many Eritreans and became connected to the local culture.
Many years later, he reconnected with former students who had moved to the U.S., one whom he invited to the U.S. From this former student, he learned of the gross injustice and mistreatment of much of the population and vowed to do something about the situation.
After 38 years of working in industry, he joined two Eritreans and two other Americans in an informal organization whose objective was to create awareness of the problems facing Eritrea. They accomplished this primarily through the use of social media and visits to think tanks and U.S. government officials.
Eventually, the group’s focus turned to paying greater attention to refugees who had fled Eritrea, many to refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia. They provided some financial help, clothing, and medicine to refugees and soon established college scholarships for Eritrean refugees living in these camps. Through that effort, they have provided 34 scholarships primarily for students to study nursing in Addis Ababa. At the same time, they began assisting refugees through advocacy and material support in acute situations of need for clothing, advocacy and cash assistance.
In early 2010, the team decided to work exclusively on humanitarian issues focusing on the refugees, and gave up their political activities. They incorporated as a Pennsylvania nonprofit, effective April 1, 2010 and registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) public charity and were formally recognized as the America Team for Displaced Eritreans with Stauffer serving as President.
The America Team has been successful in achieving many objectives ranging from assisting individuals and families to assimilate in the U.S.; coming to the aid of asylum seekers in the U.S.; and helping get resources and assistance to Eritreans in acute situations of danger or need in various countries. Stauffer states, “The area that is most challenging is that of refugees kidnapped from Eritrea and from the Sudan, and trafficked to Egypt where they are sold to renegade Egyptian Bedouins who detain, torture and extort the refugees.”
The America Team is sometimes approached, usually by an immigration attorney, to provide expert testimony for a hearing where an asylum seeker is being heard about his or her case. These efforts have proven successful in about a dozen U. S. cases.
In addition to the U. S., the America Team is primarily active is Ethiopia, where there is a volunteer refugee agent assisting in various types of cases, ranging from medical needs to facilitating communication with agencies such as UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency, and ARRA — Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs. There is also an agent and members in Israel, where there is an acute problem facing acceptance of about 35,000 Eritrean refugees. In a broader sense, The America Team has worked extensively to create awareness of the overall problem with the mistreatment of Eritreans and in particular the torture and abuse and extortion of refugees in the Sinai.
In respect to the situation of Eritreans in Ethiopia, Stauffer states,
There has been some significant adjustment and acceptance of Eritrean refugees who enter other countries. Ethiopia for example has accommodated over 60,000 Eritreans who have fled their home country, and have gradually increased the opportunities available for these refugees. Ethiopia should be commended and thanked for their humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, particularly since they have taken over 5,000 Eritrean refugees from the prisons of Egypt.
The America Team has also assisted Eritrean refugees in other countries. Examples of recent activities include assistance for:
- An Eritrean woman who was trafficked to Thailand.
- A refugee who was hospitalized in the Ukraine and in need of an expensive antibiotic for an infection in his spine.
- A group of four refugees in the Ukraine, who had not been accorded asylum there, and who had attempted to move to Slovakia.
- The Eritrean football team that had defected to Uganda in 2012 and needed assistance to relocate to a new safe place.
The America Team for Displaced Eritreans works with limited resources and funding. It frequently responds to acute situations of danger and need, respecting the need for privacy and confidentiality of its clients who may be in harm’s way.
Editor’s note: This article was based on an interview given by John Stauffer, President of the America Team for Displaced Eritreans. For the full interview, please visit http://eritreanrefugees.org/files/Interview_Questions_5-11-2013.pdf or contact Stauffer at John@EritreanRefugees.org