Father Mussie Zerai Yosief (1975)

Eritrean priest and activist known as "the angel of refugees"

Father Mussie Zerai Yosief, who immigrated to Italy at a very young age, is an Eritrean priest who has spent and continues to spend his life to help and save the weakest and most defenceless. For over twenty years he has been on the side of refugees: in concentration camps in Libya, refugee camps in transit countries and along the escape routes, up to chancelleries and institutions throughout Europe.

Zerai arrived in Italy from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, in 1992, at the age of seventeen. The urgency to act for improving the lives of desperate people and his religious vocation feed each other: even before taking his vows, in fact, he does his utmost to improve the lives of refugees. Initially, he managed to assist the migrants who crowded the Termini station in Rome. However, with time and experience, the effectiveness of his actions was perfected up to the establishment of the Habeshia Agency, 'lifesaver for immigrants'.

This reality, of which Father Zerai is the founder, has become over time an international point of reference to improve the condition of migrants at various levels and on various fronts: from concentration camps in Libya, to the crossing of the Sahara and the Mediterranean, giving voice to "non-people" fighting for the claim of their rights in institutions and chancelleries throughout Europe. The organization also guarantees migrants and refugees administrative and legal assistance and is very active in denouncing the violations of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Yemen , Israel and Europe.

It all started when, in 2003, the Eritrean priest gave his mobile phone number to some migrants, after having helped an Italian journalist imprisoned in Libya. That was the beginning of a paradigm that over the years has allowed him to save the lives of many migrants. Since then, Father Mussie Zerai's phone has never stopped ringing and his number is engraved on the walls of one of Misrata's prisons, as a lifeline for those imprisoned there.

"The angel of refugees", the title with which he is often referred to by the media, has not stopped either in front of the accusations of aiding and abetting illegal immigration or in the smear campaign waged by the Eritrean regime, which hinders his work due to the thousands of fleeing refugees. Despite the attacks, the priest chose to continue his mission.

Recently, after a lengthy investigation, all charges were dropped.

In 2015 Father Dr. Mussie Zerai Yosief was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and he received many international awards and recognitions for his struggle of great human value. In 2016 the Golden Dove for Peace was awarded to him and in 2017 he received the Mundo Negro Award for Fraternity 2017, for Habeshia's rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Reported by Emilio Drudi

Father Mussie Zerai Yosief was honoured as “Righteous reported by the civil society” in the 2023 ceremony.

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