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Refugees from Eritrea and Sudan are bringing the world’s attention to new, oppressive measures that the Israeli government is taking against them. On Saturday 4 January, 30,000 women and men, from Eritrea, Sudan and other African

Refugees from Eritrea and Sudan are bringing the world’s attention to new, oppressive measures that the Israeli government is taking against them.

On Saturday 4 January, 30,000 women and men, from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries, staged a massive demonstration on the streets of Tel Aviv.  The next day, up to 15,000 protested outside the US and various European embassies, and the offices of the UN High Commission for Refugees.  Tens of thousands in low-paid jobs have been on strike since Sunday. Over 100 refugees in detention are on hunger strike.

These protests are a response to the ‘anti-infiltration’ law rushed through the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on 10 December.  This permits the government to detain refugees and migrants without trial for up to a year.  The law was forced through after the Israeli High Court overturned a previous, similar law in September.  A purpose-built detention centre in the Negev desert is intended to house up to 9,000 refugees at a time.  The government states that its aim is to encourage ‘voluntary’ return to the countries from which these refugees have fled.   Israeli officials have also confirmed that a deal has been reached, whereby Israel would deport African refugees to Uganda, and provide the country with per capita payments and increased aid in return[1].

Meanwhile the Israeli government is recruiting thousands of workers from South-East Asia into low-paid work.  Critics say that African refugees already in the country could be offered these jobs.


Thousands of young people flee every week from the dictatorial regime in Eritrea, and pay people-smugglers large sums to bring them to relative safety.  The journey from Eritrea to Israel is fraught with danger.  Very many of these would-be migrants have been kidnapped by Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai, and held for ransom, or even killed for the horrific trade in human organs.  Those who have managed to enter Israel have been working, some for many years, in menial jobs, which at least allow them to subsist and to send remittances to their families at home.

What makes someone take such a risk?  Young people in Eritrea are conscripted for military service, in the incessant wars and threats of war perpetuated by the dictatorship; their term of service is indefinite, lasting in some cases up to twenty years.  Opponents of the regime are subject to imprisonment without trial, torture and summary execution.  Democratic and human rights are non-existent.  People fleeing other oppressive African regimes have similar stories.  According to international law, these individuals all have a strong case for acceptance as refugees, since they meet the criterion of a well-founded fear of persecution.  Official figures show that none of the 1,800 applications for asylum by Eritreans and Sudanese has been granted; in Europe around 70% of such applications are successful.

Support within and beyond Israel

While prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls refugees ‘infiltrators’ and says that they ‘threaten the Jewish character of Israel,’ other prominent Israelis are appalled at the new law.  The author and human rights activist David Grossman told protesters outside parliament, ‘I feel ashamed that we have reached this situation…  You are not criminals: you are normal, ordinary people who are trapped in a very extreme situation.’ Grossman emphasized that ‘the idea of Israel contains the idea of refugees.’

Outside of the country, Amnesty International has stated that the indefinite detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants is ‘a flagrant violation of international human rights law.’

How you can help

It is vitally important for the Israeli government to experience sustained international pressure on this issue; and for the migrants themselves to know that they have the solidarity of Africans and others outside Israel.  We ask you to:

  • Organize demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy in your country
  • Write to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the UN Commissioner for

Human Rights, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, asking them to exert their influence and push Israel to abide by UN Conventions

  • Write to your local parliamentary representative asking her/him to raise the issue in parliament
  • Work with the Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change so that it becomes an effective voice for the rights of all Eritreans, in Eritrea and in the diaspora

The Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change

The ENCDC is an umbrella organisation for the Eritrean diaspora, working towards a democratic solution in Eritrea and for the rights of Eritreans in exile.  The ENCDC is encouraging its members and member organisations to take action on this issue.  It is also continuing to campaign by lobbying the UN, EU, AU, the Pope, international Human Rights Organisations and other NGOs.

Tzeggai Yohannes Deres

Chairman, Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change

9. January 2014

[1] Source: ReliefWeb, 8 September 2013

Review overview
  • Ali-lol January 10, 2014
  • Kombishtato January 10, 2014

    Dear Tzegai Yohannes,

    Your opinion above is fairly balanced, I agree with you in stressing for Israel to respect the various international human rights law and many conventions that it is the signatory of. It is fair you echoed the Amnesty international and the UN Humanitarian Commission for Refugees.

    How do the international community and groups like yours address Israelis obvious security concerns in the Arab world? Most of these refugees come from nations that support violent and Jihadist organizations, that is Sudan and Eritrea with long history of support to many Islamist extremists, be it Somali’s al Shabab, the Mullah’s of Iran and many violent factions in the Middle East.

    My second point is, still supporting the bold statement you had made stressing the respect for human rights, where were the Eritrean opposition forces sleeping, save for few individuals when Eritreans were deported by the Libyan, Egyptian, Sudanese and Saudi Arabian regimes? Where were you when the Arab media, the Arab League, Arab regimes and Arab intellectuals kept quite about the slavery, rape, cry and murder of Eritrean refugees passing through the Arab world or were seeking temporary refuge in the Arab world?

    This comment is not specifically against you, because to be fair at least few times you wrote and spoke up, it is against the many hypocrites who are still hiding.

  • aus 17 January 11, 2014

    Be realistic, the soft background of Israel as depicted in the Bible, is not at all true and relevant at the present. Eritreans and Ethiopians have a very good and humanistic understanding of Israel which is absolutely out of its context. Israel is rough and tough against any Black person. Even to its own Flashas, they have had a very unhuman life there.
    Stop being naive, no one will ever have any help from them except, the worst inhuman treatment and curse.
    Terefore, go back and check your stance, pondering who are the Israelites? how mercyful are they? How do they treat their neiboughrs in need? Did they learn from their past experiences from history? I doubt, what we see the black torture, inhuman treatment is, itself an evidence stands as a monument for everyone to see, who they are!!!!!

    • Kabbire January 11, 2014

      There is no comparison between life in Israel and the Arab world as a refugee.
      This is the reason many Eritreans run away from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Libya to a just and fair society in the christian West such as California, Australia, Sweden, England …
      The Jebha murderer Abdela Idris told his entire tribe who were hiding in Cairo to get refuge to the christian United Kingdom for more rights and better English language education. There is a lot of deceit in Eritrean Sewra politics.

      A Muslim Khurdish from Iraq who lived in Iraq and in Syria once said:
      “I would rather be in an Israeli jail than live under any tyrant Arab regime.”