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Israel accused of coercing Eritrean refugees to ‘volunteer’ for deportation

Local UN official, NGO claim Israel tells Eritrean nationals that they can either go back to home, where their lives would be in danger, or remain in jail. Eritrean refugees imprisoned in Israel are being coerced

Local UN official, NGO claim Israel tells Eritrean nationals that they can either go back to home, where their lives would be in danger, or remain in jail.

Eritrean refugees imprisoned in Israel are being coerced into signing “voluntary” departure forms to return to Eritrea – where the UN says their lives would be in danger – or go to another country, according to the UN refugee agency here and the Hotline for Migrant Workers.

Local UN officials say the Eritreans are denied their right to seek asylum. They are being told they can either go back home or stay locked up in Israel for at least three years.

A group of Eritrean nationals is expected to be flown soon either to Eritrea or to another country willing to receive them, say officials who visited the prison near Kibbutz Mishmarot where they are being held. Israel has not confirmed this.

If the reports are true, this will be the first time Eritreans are returned at Israel’s initiative to their country, which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has classified as a totalitarian state that severely violates human rights. The Eritrean government imprisons and tortures dissenters, drafts men into the army for decades, and has shut down human rights and non-governmental organizations.

Israel grants Eritreans group protection due to the situation in their country, although it does not recognize them as refugees. Israel does not deport the Eritreans because it has signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Despite the UN’s position and Israel’s policy not to deport Eritreans, Israel maintains diplomatic relations with Eritrea and an Eritrean ambassador is stationed here.

A group of Eritreans who recently left the prison for one day reportedly said on their return that they had met the Eritrean ambassador in Israel. The Eritrean embassy refused to comment on the “voluntary return” scheme.

Foreign Ministry officials said there was “no legal obstacle to a person’s voluntary return to his country, if he wants to do so.”

According to the Population Registrar, Eritreans comprise more than 60 percent of the people who have entered Israel illegally.

Sharon Harel, a senior UNHCR official, told Haaretz the UNHCR’s main fear is that many Eritreans are not given the option to ask for asylum.

Until last June, Eritrean and North Sudanese nationals who entered Israel were released from prison. Since then the law has been amended to enable the authorities to incarcerate African migrants and refugees for three years or more.

“We are concerned that people who fear persecution if they return to their homeland want to ask for asylum are not permitted to do so,” she says.

“In practice, they are not given an option for asylum. On the other hand, the people are held in prison, while the immigration officials offer them either to ‘leave voluntarily’ or remain at least three years in prison,” she says.

“People call us alarmed over the very idea of returning to Eritrea. They have no hope of being released, they don’t know [asylum] is an option at all, or that if they applied and it wasn’t considered they are entitled to be released,” she says.

Gabriel Tatela of Hotline for Migrant Workers recently visited the prison. “Officials told the people they have two possibilities – either to sign a ‘voluntary return’ or stay in prison at least three years,” he says.

He said one Eritrean prisoner told him, “‘Today they called me and gave me a handwritten form in Tigrinya [Eritrea’s predominant language], saying ‘I came from Eritrea to Israel illegally and now I want to go to Uganda of my own free will. I ask the Eritrean embassy to issue me a passport and all the required documents.’ They asked me to sign it and wanted to videotape me.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) sent the head of the Population and Immigration Authority an urgent request to stop the deportation back to Eritrea and to stop signing the refugees on the return documents.

“Returning asylum seekers to Eritrea is a clear and blatant violation of the ‘no return’ principle in the Refugee Rights Convention,” he wrote.

Attorney Reut Michaeli of the Hotline for Migrant Workers said “the fact that Israel prevents refugees from applying for asylum shows how obtuse we’ve become. Sending people in this situation back to their country means deportation – deportation to where their lives are in danger. There’s nothing voluntary about that.”

Neither the immigration authority nor the Justice Ministry reacted to the accusations.


Review overview
  • Saba February 14, 2013

    I feel like vomiting, so many thoughts and emotions is bothering me

  • ahmed saleh February 14, 2013

    Israel claim itself as democratic country under rule of
    law . If that is the case why not these Eritrean refugees
    rights protected accordingly . It is discriminatory view
    From the authority in their promotion to the exclusion
    of those people who seek safe place to live in peace .

    • Abdallah Abdu February 16, 2013


      Haven’t you ever heard of the Palestinians? ” Rights..democracy ..rule of law …discriminatory “.??

      Try to learn and get rid of your naivety. Why do you expect the usurpatory entity to share with you everything?

  • banana republic February 14, 2013

    I was watching a video on YouTube where it shows supporters of pfdj almost killed a guy they accuse of being tekawamay in Israel. Are these asylum seekers? And most of those Sinai victims now in Israel claim themselves that they left Eritrea just to escape from national service and worse to help their poor families working abroad, which are not basis for political asylum. They were also demonstrating infront of the US embassy in tel aviv against the human trafficking in Sinai but not against tthe main cause which is the regime in Eritrea. So if Israel calls them infiltrators or economic migrants it’s not far from truth.

    • emmuna March 27, 2013

      i am eritrean sitizen. and i am absolutely agree with you. you are perfectly right. but remember it doesn’t mean that their lives is not in danger in eritrea. but as u said. if they are just agree with the government that torture them so what the hell the want from israel….. if eritrean government treats them like this ……they deserved . its too sab being eritrean…….

  • yosief in irl February 15, 2013

    dear ahmed
    the defnition of democracy to israel is only to its cetizens

    • emmuna March 27, 2013

      u said democracy means for israel only for its citizen….thats good …why should they think of you. jewish people love each other more than you even immagine. and the main thing they respect their woman!!!!1 their people…and work hard and study hard.thats why i love them…i wish i was jewish!!!!!you guys must learn the value of life and love each other……you help your self and nobody is preventing u from helping your self and working hard. defending your self,,,,,,,,, don’t waste your time by blaming other countries…. nobody is taking care of you……take care your self.. and dont expect too much from israel…

      • emmuna March 27, 2013

        this answer above is for ahmed and abdullah………its easy blame others…. to get out of your problem say first its my fault ……and say.we are ignorant cruiel we don’t give a value for life.. its time to study…..dont blame amrica and israel…..

        sorry i am trying to help you