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Imprisoned Eritreans complain of being forced to leave Israel

TEL AVIV, 11 March 2013 (IRIN) - Testimonies of jailed Eritrean migrants and asylum seekers (collected by a local NGO) say officials at Saharonim prison in Israel’s Southern Negev desert are coercing them to sign

TEL AVIV, 11 March 2013 (IRIN) – Testimonies of jailed Eritrean migrants and asylum seekers (collected by a local NGO) say officials at Saharonim prison in Israel’s Southern Negev desert are coercing them to sign “voluntary repatriation” forms.

In one of the many testimonies a 28-year-old Eritrean detainee reported being repeatedly visited by a translator telling her to accept deportation to a third country (Uganda).

“He said we would not be free from the prison and we can only go to Uganda or Eritrea. I was frustrated and depressed. I do not want to go to Uganda. Today they called me and gave me a handwritten form in Tigrinya which said: `I came from Eritrea to Israel illegally and now I want to go to Uganda voluntarily. To do this I would like the Eritrean embassy to issue me a passport and all the necessary documents.’ They asked me to sign it and wanted to take my picture on video. I refused.”

Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention but does not recognize Eritreans as refugees, although it does not officially deport Eritreans and allows them to stay in Israel under a group defence (temporary group protection).

Staff at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, who collected the testimonies, say the government is forcibly trying to repatriate Eritreans: “These people have no access to a refugee status determination process, they are detained under the new amendment to the infiltration law that came into effect in June 2012, which allows detention of `infiltrators’ for an unlimited amount of time; now they are told they will never be allowed to leave the prison and their only option is to go back to Uganda/Eritrea. How can this be considered voluntary?” one staff member told IRIN.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Israel, William Tall, told IRIN the Ministry of Interior made an attempt to offer relocation to some 23 Eritreans to Uganda but without any result so far.

At the end of February he told Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz there was nothing voluntary about this process.

One Eritrean, Tesfamihret Habtemariam, was reportedly deported from Israel earlier this month and is now in detention at Cairo airport after five years in Israel, and may be returned to Eritrea.

UNHCR advises against repatriating Eritrean nationals because of the likelihood of their being punished on return to their country.

Israel’s stance

Under an updated Anti-Infiltration law passed in January 2012, all illegal border crossers are labelled “infiltrators” and can be detained for up to three years.

The Eritreans being held in detention camps in the south are generally not notified about their right to claim asylum or given the application forms needed to do this, report NGOs.

On 18 February, official documents from the Israeli assembly, the Knesset, quote Interior Minister Eli Yishai saying deportations (by definition forced) were not yet taking place.

He said more than a 1,000 nationals of northern Sudan and Eritrea had already left voluntarily and said he hoped a lot more would decide to leave.

“And if it won’t be voluntary leave, it will be involuntary – to their country or to a different third country, and there is still no third country to sign an agreement with, but I hope we do find other third countries that we’ll have an agreement with, and we can transfer the infiltrators from here, from the Land of Israel, to their country or to another country, whether it is done willingly or not.”

Last week the Israel’s Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein sent a letter widely reported in the local press to the director of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Amnon Ben Ami, saying that under no circumstances should Eritrean nationals in Israeli custody be sent “to any destination outside Israel’s borders” until he (Weinstein) further clarifies these legal issues.


Theme (s): GovernanceHuman RightsMigrationRefugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Review overview
  • josef March 14, 2013

    Israel kedemu kem kdan lemanay kanzin kabtin lekakibom zserhuwo adi intay kitee.

  • Sembel March 15, 2013

    Dear Demonstration leader
    Please we have to agree and admit the real identity of the nation. Had president Issaise been wise and thinks it was so important to make reconciliation among the horn but you don’t believe that the mind of Issais could not bring the establishment of Great Tigray it was so easy before 20 years that could not send honest Ethiopian families who grows and lives in Eritrea for so long the tears and preys of these people is very dangerous for all of us. I know the contribution of Tigrains to fasten the fallen of dergue for independnce and to the other side there was contribution to length of the war with dergue. Because in both wars starting from Federation the participation of Tigrains in the decision, the war of nakfa, fenkil was known for all of us.They were also supporters of dergue just like formal military, zondo, azo and the likes. We have to admit all feudals of Tigray starting from bashay Lemma and the followers of Atse yohaness and Rassi Alulu was leading Eritrea for several time including the metaht and kebessa we have families with this family mainly on all kebesas and few metaht area belongs to Tigray specially the land of seraye up-to dubarwa and Kessela of sudan was belongs to Tigray. This is fact, we Eritrean are under colony of Tigray, we are still under leadership of Tigray whther the military base or political leadership you know better than me being an Eritrean who grows abroad. This is mainly due to the existing gynecology of the so called Eritrean women is not still give birth for leadership in Eritrea unless we get the right person who have recent blood of Tigray. This is given not from human being since we are from the same family we have accept. Reality.
    God bless Ethiopia.

  • john March 17, 2013

    Thank you

    Sembel, you are right but we eritreans helped tigia more and more,they were not having any right during derg,for sure my uncle was the one training for meles and suim mesfun 1975,and from 1984-1991 there were 1 berged from, kefleserawet 70, and one mekanazed botelon with tanks with tigia army, Have you not seen the mekanazed which controls addis with tanks, it is there in tigia TV.even two of my close family they scarified in side ethiopa with those berged.

    Therefore, we eritreans helped tigia more and more.try to know all,tell the truth history
    i really know about it better than you,do not pick the only help in 1982 in nakfa.


  • Dembelas March 19, 2013

    thanks so much what i mean needs to be clear for all of us we are from the same family. As you mention the organizer , trainer, of any economic matters is more advanced from EPLF. But what i want to say in the past,present and future being we are an Eritrean we belongs to Tigray for their blood relation and the leader who is EPLF most of them they were Tigrynes. and I am not focusing on the only nakfa we are from the some family.
    God bless Eritrea.

  • Saba March 22, 2013

    How about the Ethiopian deported many Eritreans when the war ‘badme’ started. Most of the Eritrean were left by force without taken any of thier assets.

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