Eritreans: ‘Voluntary deportations’ from Israel cross red line
At first official press conference of Eritrean community in south Tel Aviv, spokesmen call on Israeli government to follow lead of 'most Western countries’ and stop deportations. Representatives of the Eritrean community in Israel on Sunday
At first official press conference of Eritrean community in south Tel Aviv, spokesmen call on Israeli government to follow lead of ‘most Western countries’ and stop deportations.
Representatives of the Eritrean community in Israel on Sunday accused Israel of crossing a “red line” after the so-called “voluntary deportation” of 14 Eritreans two weeks ago. They were sent back to their homeland from the Saharonim detention facility, where they had been detained. One of the expelled men has reportedly been tortured since arriving back in Eritrea.
At the first press conference of its kind, convened in south Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, community spokespersons decried the procedure, recently approved by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Davit Damuz said the Israeli government is endangering the lives of those expelled to Eritrea.
“They were expelled from prison in Israel, where they were detained without a release date and without knowing what would happen to them, said Damuz. “In Israel they decided to call it ‘voluntary return’ – but that’s not true. When there’s no other possibility, there’s no such thing as voluntary and there’s no such thing as choice.
“The Israeli government exploited their situation, and now their lives are in danger. We call on the Israeli government to put an immediate stop to the return of the refugees to Eritrea. This return is extradition of the refugees to the dictatorship in Eritrea. This return endangers their lives,” he emphasized.
Representatives sent a letter in a similar vein on Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Habtum Mehari presented evidence of the fate of the returnees to Eritrea: The brother of one of the expellees said that the connection with him had been cut. “His family tried to check with the authorities as to what happened to him after he landed at Asmara airport, the Eritrean capital. Eritrean army sources told the family that he is imprisoned in a detention facility in the south of the country and is being seriously tortured,” he said. “We have additional details. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you more than that because it’s dangerous for the man and his family.”
Mehari said that community representatives in Israel spoke to one of the 14 Eritreans who returned home two weeks ago as a “voluntary returnee.”
The Eritrean ambassador to Israel, Tesfamariam Tekeste, accompanied the flight. “The ambassador told them during the flight, ‘We’ll give you four months of quiet and then we’ll take you back to the army and it will be hard for you there.’ Although the expellees were afraid to give us information over the phone, one of them said that the government is closely observing and keeping track of all of them.” He added that this behavior is typical of the Eritrean government: “They create a number of positive cases in order to overturn other negative reports.”
Mehari told of additional cases in which Eritreans who had fled from their country were sent back by the Egyptian and Sudanese governments. “Submitting a request for asylum in a country outside Eritrea is considered an act of treason by the Eritrean government, so anyone returned to Eritrea is considered a traitor and is harshly treated,” he said, criticizing the policy of the Israeli government. “In the past decade there has been almost no expulsions to Eritrea, especially not from developed and democratic countries. In most Western countries – in Europe and the United States – they are aware of the fact that it’s impossible to expel Eritreans to their [old] country. Israel is unable to understand that.”
Damuz told of the present situation in Eritrea. “To this day in Eritrea, there is no freedom or rights for the citizens, there is no free communication, there is no freedom of expression, there is no freedom of conscience, there is no freedom of religion, there is no freedom of movement. There is one party and establishing an opposition to it is forbidden. Anyone who thinks otherwise or voices his opinion is arrested and disappeared.
“Journalists and political activists are arrested and imprisoned,” Damuz added. “The families don’t know where the people are taken and whether they will return some day. Every person in Eritrea has to be conscripted without knowing [when they] will be discharged. In the army, soldiers are slaves of the government. If a male or female soldier talks or asks questions, he or she is taken to prison.”
Damuz asked to send a message to the Israeli public, particularly to the residents of south Tel Aviv: “We didn’t come to Israel in order to harm you or destroy your home; we aren’t your enemies. We hear the cry and the pain of the residents here – in the Shapira neighborhood, the Hatikva neighborhood and Neve Sha’anan. We see the situation here. We aren’t blind. It’s important to us that you know – this difficult situation isn’t our fault. We all came to south Tel Aviv after being released from [the detention center] without anything – without a work permit and anything.
According to Population, Immigration and Border Authority figures, about 55,000 African migrants are living in Israel today, about 36,000 of them Eritrean citizens. Some 2,000 African migrants are being held in Israeli prisons, based on the “law to prevent infiltration,” which allows them to be imprisoned for three years without trial.
The law determines that the migrants can be arrested based on the crime of entering Israeli without a permit. An additional procedure, “for handling infiltrators involved in a criminal proceeding,” allows for the imprisonment of African migrants suspected of committing a crime, based on administrative evidence only, even if it is insufficient for a criminal trial.
The community representatives point an accusing finger at the Israeli government. “I would tell the residents here that we should oppose the government together. We’re suffering and they’re also suffering because of the government,” Damuz said. “We call on the Israeli government to examine our request for asylum fairly. All the democratic countries in the world recognize us as refugees. We want very much to return to Eritrea, we miss our families, our land and our culture – but to expel us today to Eritrea is to sentence us to death. We’re pleading with the Israeli government – give us protection.”