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From Eritrea to Israel to Uganda to Egypt and back to Eritrea: army deserter faces death sentence after deportation debacle

Tesfamihret Habtemariam spent six days living in Cairo airport room after being refused asylum in Uganda An Eritrean man who sought asylum in Israel but voluntarily left the country after he agreed to be deported to

Tesfamihret Habtemariam spent six days living in Cairo airport room after being refused asylum in Uganda

An Eritrean man who sought asylum in Israel but voluntarily left the country after he agreed to be deported to Uganda, is now back in Eritrea where he likely faces severe prosecution and possible death as an army deserter.

Tesfamihret Habtemariam, 28, was denied entry to Uganda last Thursday and put on a flight to Egypt, where he had connected on his way from Israel. He spent six days detained in an enclosed room at Cairo airport, while authorities and human rights groups tried to persuade him to fly back to Israel.

But having spent the last few months in an Israeli prison as an illegal immigrant, with the likelihood of three more years incarcerated on return, Mr Habtemariam decided to fly home. “It is my choice. For me it is better,” he said through tears on the phone, hours before his departure.

Israel has around 60,000 immigrants from Africa, the majority Eritrean, most of who entered the country illegally over the last decade. But its controversial attempts to deport them have sparked controversy, for methods include imprisonment, detention centres and so-called voluntary repatriations, where the choice is to leave the country or remain in prison for three years under legislation called ‘Infiltrators Law.’

Mr Habtemariam spent years living in Israel but was arrested several months ago, put in prison, and “tricked” into signing up for voluntary repatriation to Uganda, says human rights activist and journalist Meron Estefanos.

“The government bought him the ticket to fly to Uganda. But Israel has no deal with Uganda. They’re just dumping people in Uganda and hoping somebody will take him,” she said.

While at Cairo airport Mr Habtemariam was made to sleep on the floor, given a bread and rice once a day and his only source of recreation was a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Over the phone he assessed his hopeless situation. “I don’t have a choice. I don’t want to go home to Eritrea…. I don’t want to go to Israel.”

Despite the efforts of the UN in Israel to persuade him otherwise, and despite facing possible death in Eritrea, Mr Habtemariam decided to fly home on Wednesday evening.

“He knows that he will be prosecuted but he says that being prosecuted in Eritrea is better than being imprisoned in Israel,” said Ms Estefanos, who first alerted the Israeli press last weekend.

Mr Habtemariam’s private lawyer, Lior Peretz, confirmed that his client would almost certainly face three years in jail should he return, but said it was a better option that Eritrea where “the chance is they will kill him. That is what happens to men who run away from Eritrea and come back later.”

Eritrea remains one of the most repressive countries in the world and the UN estimates that hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled in recent years. On Tuesday, Israel’s attorney general Yehuda Weinstein halted the deportation of Eritrean migrants “to prevent, God forbid, such incidents from occurring again.”

The Independent

Review overview
  • Justice_please March 8, 2013

    The cooperation between the Jews/Juden and the Ertrean Dictator seems to function perfect, as the long run policy in the region is so conspired and real. If the Jews see the victim as an illegal immigrant, it is hard to pwercept that the Jews have already forgotten what the good HITLER did upon them as the most evil and hated race on earth.

    • Shalom March 9, 2013

      Check your motive that pushed you to post anti Jewsih comment

      • Ali-lol March 9, 2013

        There is no motive as it is the truth from his heart! Holocaust was a destiny bestowed upon jews.

    • Asme March 9, 2013

      The good peace loving Muslim bedwins didnt do any good to eritrean immigrants either. i say race is not a good factor to be evil.

  • Araya March 9, 2013

    men I wish him good luck, may God will be with him!!!

  • SABA March 9, 2013

    He is my age and faced the hell alive. While i can study,earn good bucks and have a not to complain LIFE.
    He was “test” for Israel. Eritrea may not jail him up right away, not to “confirm” their cruelty but we´ll see in future! They are doing probably a deal with Israel.
    The rightwingers in Israel need more votes and divert attention from their failed policies, and since it is a universal issue, if economy is broken down to blame all on foreigners. By the way,the darker in skintone, the worse!
    We cannot blame Israel, the country which supported in GHEDLI time to kill our people by all ways.
    They just follow their interest. IT is our own people who cause us or brought us into such mess.
    This circle must be stopped. Any decision this innocent brother made, would have been “wrong”.

    It is worse then heart-breaking news. When did you ever hear any positive happen to Eritreans or about Eritrea. Only disgusting news i can remember since my childhood.

    I cant blame Issayas ONLY for the misery. There is no doubt about other nations involvement since they only follow their interest. We have a mentally retarded clique residing in Eritrea which has to be eliminated otherwise Eritrea will be sold totally and splitted into Ethiopia and Sudan.

    • afro March 9, 2013

      What kind of greedy thoughts you are reflecting. Is it a big deal if you go to school or you earn big bucks damn it. You think it’s good to let us know your level in life by comparing your pathetic life with the guy. Please try to face reality and be a responsible person when next time you post something because no one cares if you are eating a hamburger or you go to school grow up. Your motives should have been bring change to this poor soul who is need. If you have morals or think you are in a better position then why don’t you send him a check. So far this the kind of people we are dealing with a complete greedy society who thinks they are better than other just because they have money. Stupid mentality ! Try to picture a real situation here again NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU ARE! Don’t brag about a crap personality . A complete shame on you who ever you are.

      • Tedfa-Hargerna March 10, 2013

        Afro, be easy on Saba. She was just expressing Life’s unfairness. She was trying to have perspective how good she has it, while others of the same age suffer. She was not bragging, quite the opposite, she was being grateful while feeling the pain of those that are less fortunate. So, with all due respect, let us be gentle with each other.


      • Saba March 10, 2013

        Afro, did you forget taking your medicine or putting “wrong” anger on me?! You totally misunderstood my simple comment or you are trying to put me in the wrong “boat”. I made a comparison between Tesfamihret Habtemariam and my life since we are same aged, same people but experienced very different lives. I tried to picture the unfairness and injusticeness ruling in this world, although we come from the same roots and were born almost at the same time.

  • Halafi Mengedi March 9, 2013

    PFDJ is cruel but not stupid. PFDJ will use this incident to its own advantage. To maintain a favorable public image, it would not arrest him but give him what’s infamously known as the “regret form” and send him back to “servituide”-nexa agelgilot. This does not mean PFDJ does not torture, arrest, and in some circumstances kill those who go back to Eritrea.

    • ahmed saleh March 9, 2013

      Halafi Menghedi , afka yiteam
      Unless they condemn him in that cruel prison , any other option is acceptable in my side of view .

    • Grass March 9, 2013

      I agree

  • ahmed saleh March 9, 2013

    I don’t know what to say but sometimes I feel guilty of myself for no reason like I didn’t do
    enough to fight the evils inside our society . I feel sorry for Tesfamhret’s abnormal life
    conditions of life he challenged unneccessarily . I only pray for him to find kindness and
    sympathty among his people after what he went through on this unfortunate Eritreans life experience .
    I guess we in diaspora find ourselves our hand tighten but only to feel frustrated about the whole
    scenario which is happenning to our ordinary people .

  • murad ali March 9, 2013

    My heart goes out to Tesfamihret Habtemariam. He is a victim of a world that has lost its compassion and humanity. Reading the following article by an Israeli journalist in Haaretz newspaper about the plights of African refugees in Israel I can understand why Tesfamariam took that decision.

    This is part of the article:
    Racism kills. First they take away a people’s right to work, leave them to starve without belongings in the streets and prevent them from accessing health and welfare services. Then they pollute language to dehumanize them as a group: resurrecting the blood libel to make the majority of them criminals. They say they are rapists and carriers of disease. They tell us they are “infiltrators,” even though came here fleeing the darkest dictatorships and have never had their claims for asylum reviewed. And they repeat these lies over and over until they sink in.
    They are aided by media outlets, which hide the magnitude of human rights violations in Eritrea and Sudan and contribute to the incitement campaigns that erupt every time a refugee commits a crime. They pass the Prevention of Infiltration Law, a boorish and discriminatory measure that permits jailing people for their entire lives for jaywalking, assuming they also happen to be Sudanese or Eritrean.

    A famous Tigre proverb goes:
    Min shoom Ali habey deeb modayou:
    (A monkey in his own homeland is prouder than a king away from his homeland)
    But no one but this repressive regime (and the home and away prideless monkey) to blame for all of our miseries.

    • Embasorya The Mighty March 9, 2013

      “But no one but this repressive regime (and the home and away prideless monkey) to blame for all of our miseries.”

      Do you think that people would stop moving elswhere if the hawasa guys were to take power in Eritrea? Use your brain before you open your mouth.

      • ahmed saleh March 9, 2013

        Speak up for the truth . The contaminated mind brought
        us to forfeit our God given right not to live in peace and
        harmony . Thst is why we observe people with blinded
        eyes and. deaf ears in denial just for stupid political purpose while others victimized , what a shame !

        • Murad Ali March 9, 2013

          The Awasa guys with their distorted and divisive view of Eritrea are not even a choice.
          We now have our home bred the mighty Forto. Hopefully I have used my brain to your satisfaction dear Mighty Embasoira!!
          Meches zebra zebra endiou zemtzeo , In the mid Seventies to stop the venom of awarajanet in football, The Hamasien football club was renamed as Asmara, Seraie as Mendefera, Legechwa as maylaham and Aklegoozai as Embasoira (or Haika tamatya as the Saho liked to call it).
          But to this day there are those who take the word Embasoira as a byword for Awrajenet..
          I hope you too have used your brain brother.

      • Murad Ali March 9, 2013

        Of course not. The Awasa guys with thier distorteted and divisive vew of Eritrea will never be the alternative.
        Our home bred Forto is the alternative.I hope I have used my brain to your satisfaction dear M

        • ahmed saleh March 10, 2013

          Can you clarify the distorted and divisive view about those opposition group , if you
          have substancial reasoning I like to hear from you otherwise we must restrain ourselves
          from accusations based on emotion .

          • Murad Ali March 10, 2013

            My reservation has mainly to do with some of the groups with political manifestos based on ethnic or religious agendas that the opposition umbrella has accommodated.
            To me these groups foster divisive views and are harmful to the very fabric, unity and future democratic Eritrea. And of course I don’t mean all opposition groups.
            There are those for example who hoist the banner of self determination, for example, for the Blein. That is a joke.
            A unified Eritrea with a secular system is the way to go. At this stage I am not asking for Keren as the capital city.
            Come on Saleh what happened? I thought we two and Saba agree on every thing.

          • ahmed saleh March 11, 2013

            Due my respect , brother Murad ,it is my my principle to agree not to disagree in some points
            but out of general understanding . Critism and self critism must get it’s recognition in our political discussion environment . Ofcourse from honest and straightforward approach though .

  • Lalmba March 9, 2013

    According to the bible the Jew have been suffered more than any one in the world. They know how it feels to be an immigrant. The knew what might happen for any one who come from a country like Eritrea. They did not bother cos, they don’t care.

    It is shame for the Jew!

  • Paradiso March 9, 2013

    Given the history of racism, human trafficking, murder, rape and slavery of black muslims in racist Arab world, such as Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait … , life in Israel for moslems from Darfur, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea is heaven.

    While the many black African Arabized moslems are shunned as slaves or Abeed in the Arab world as the Akhdams of yemen, Abeeds in Saudia, Zanjis in Iraq, Nubians in Egypt, and worst in Libya, life in Israel is like living in a land of milk and honey with “72 virgins” as Osama had promised to his retarded followers.
    what about this:

    21-year-old Ethiopian becomes Miss Israel


  • Paradiso March 9, 2013

    ምሓሸና ዶ

    ቆልዑ ትሩቡሊ እንዳጓየዩ፣
    “ዓብድ ! ዓብድ !” እንዳበሉ፤
    ኤርትራዊ ሓሰበ ተዳሂሉ፣
    ልቡ ብራዕዲ ነዲሉ፣
    “ቋንቋና ዓረብ እንተዝኸውን፣”
    ምሓሸና ዶ ካብ ውርደትን ሕስረትን ፧

    • Murad Ali March 9, 2013

      Xenophobia is sometimes behind racism which is inherent in human nature.
      We are all racists in our own ways.
      In Keren there used to be a player of a very dark skin (from Sudan tzabab – a small community of real African origin living in Keren and tend orchards along Ansaba river). Poor Wad Faraj, an Ansaba Club, player was occasionally abused “Ya Abed” by opposing team supporters.
      In our own homes, darker siblings were called “Inta zaleem , inta fahroo”.
      Having said that the Arabs are as bad as anyone when it gets to their view of people with darker skins and Saudi blacks are the most demoralised Africans I have ever came across.
      Now back to you Paradiso are you a fahroo like Yemane (monkey) or decent like Adahanom?

  • josef March 9, 2013

    10 years ago the same thing happened to me I fled Eritrea to sudan then kenya. From kenya I tried to fly to Europe with fake passport but i was caught and deported to eritrea. At my arrival to asmara police picked up me to kedamay medeber, horror! After that i apeared in fluy bet frdi and convicted for 3 years in jail. But after six months I managed to escape again. Thankfully now i am living peacfully in a western country. Mskinay tesfamariam kemay yemaslo.