Obtaining Asylum for an Eritrean Pro Bono Client - McDermott Will & Emery

Obtaining Asylum for an Eritrean Pro Bono Client


Mussie Mehari Zerae was forcibly conscripted into the Eritrean military as a teenager. When he questioned the government’s conscription policy and conditions for soldiers during unit meetings with military leaders, he was arrested and removed from his home. Over the course of more than a year, he was tortured and imprisoned in deplorable and overcrowded conditions.

Zerae was only released from his government captors after he agreed to sign a document disavowing his political opinions and swearing never to question the government again. He suffers from lasting physical and emotional injuries as a result of his torture.

In an effort to reach the United States and seek refuge, Zerae traveled—often by foot—through nearly a dozen countries before turning himself in to authorities and immediately requesting asylum at the US entry point.


The stakes were particularly high for Zerae: His daughter was born just a few weeks before his hearing, at which he testified about friends and family members who expressed similar political views and were taken by police, never to be heard from again. He stated that he genuinely believed if he were sent back to Eritrea, he would be captured and killed by government authorities.

After Zerae had waited nearly nine years for his application to be heard, a pro bono team at McDermott secured asylum for him.

The team most recently included Joshua Eastby and Elizabeth Lewis, with invaluable assistance from Jean May and Paul Cronin.