“Your Only Way Out of the Israeli Prison is to Uganda or Eritrea”
The Hotline for Migrant Workers, one of the leading NGO’s advocating for the rights of African refugees in Israel, is asking that you urgently email or fax the head of the Israeli Immigration Authority Amnon Ben Ami. You will find the appeal from HMW, contact information and a sample letter below.
- More reading: “I too am a refugee. We are all potential refugees”: RHR Education Director Rabbi Nava Hefetz Addresses the Honorable UN High Commissioner for Refugees
This could literally be a matter of life and death for twenty-five Eritrean asylum seekers in immediate danger of deportation, even though their lives and liberty could be in danger if they are sent back to Eritrea. There is no legal way to expel Eritreans or North Sudanese asylum seekers from Israel. They have collective protection because the situation in their countries means that there is a clear threat to any of them forced to return to their countries of origin.
However, Israel is now trying to twist the arms of Eritreans to leave “voluntarily,” rather than remain in detention for at least three years. This is in addition to the fact that Israel has closed its borders, without implementing the procedures used around the world to determine who deserves refugee status. Just last week our Torah portion twice commands us not to wrong or oppress the stranger because we ourselves have been the stranger. (Exodus 22:20, 23:9).
“Shishay, the Tigrinya’s translator of the Immigration Authority, comes to our section in the prison and says “You must go to Eritrea or Uganda and there is no other way out of here”. I cannot go back to Eritrea. At first, I did not believe Shishay but when the prison section commander repeated his words, I started believing. I tried to commit suicide several times here. When I realized that there is no way out, I preferred to die inEritrea…. I think that if I go back to Eritrea something bad will happen to me. When I escaped Eritrea, the authorities arrested my brother as a punishment and since then no one knows whether he is dead or alive. I lost hope. My brother is gone. I’m in prison with no way out so maybe it is better to be back no matter what will happen to me.”
This is part of the testimony that M., an Eritrean asylum seeker who has been detained in Saharonim prison for the past eight months, recently gave to activists of the Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW).
Four other detainees gave similar testimonies and claimed separately in front of the HMW‘s activists that Immigration officers, prison commanders and the Immigration’s translator Shihay told them that the only way out of prison is to Uganda or Eritrea.
On Monday, several detained asylum seekers called HMW and reported that 25 Eritreans were taken to the Airport after they had signed a consent form agreeing to fly to Uganda Since they gave up on the possibility of ever being released from internment in Israel.
On Tuesday, in one of the calls from prison, a detainee claimed that the people taken yesterday are back in prison, after being taken to Beer Sheva Immigration office and that soon they are about to board a flight to Eritrea and not to Uganda as they believed. We have no access to those deportees, but two of them, detained for ten months each, who are represented by the HMW, were told that they cannot board the flight because of the HMW’s request for their release.
Denial Of Human Rights
These are two among 283 asylum seekers that HMW activists met in prison and applied for asylum on their behalf during the last six months. Most people currently detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law have entered Israel since the law came into force on June 3, 2012. 1,672 people have entered Israel in the past seven months via the Israel-Egypt border. Legal representation is not available to most of them. They are not notified about their right to apply for asylum. Persons who state that they may face danger in their countries of origin are not considered asylum seekers until they fill out the correct form in English, which is not available to them in prison. Detainees who called HMW and learned about the RSD (Refugee Status Determination) forms claim that there are no forms in their section and that no one among the authorities knows which forms they need to fill. Until such forms are filled, a person is not considered by the authorities to be an asylum seeker. (Note: An RHR delegation recently visited the Saharonim detention center. When we asked what happened if detainees wanted to apply for refugee status, we were told that there was a tray in each cell block where those imprisoned could deposit applications, which were collected by immigration authorities. We did not have a chance to ask those imprisoned whether this was the case, and whether they were aware that they had this right. A.A.)
HMW addressed the Immigration Authority on numerous occasions, detailing the flaws of the asylum system in the internment camps and the illegal conduct of Immigration officers toward the detainees who are denied the possibility of asking for asylum….
The testimonies of the two Eritreans who are represented by HMW and who have signed consent forms for deportation to Uganda provide an indication about the profile of those who are deemed “work infiltrators” by Israeli authorities. These are young Eritrean who defected from the Eritrean Army and served time in prison for defecting from Army service in the past… Israel claims that since they are “work infiltrators” and not refugees, they are “voluntarily returning” to their homeland.
Israeli human rights activists expressed grave concern about the fate of Eritreans who are set to be deported. This will not be the first time when Israel deports people under the “voluntary leave” procedure. While Israel does not forcibly deport Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, in the past few months it has placed considerable pressure on detainees from these countries to sign consent form to “voluntary return,” stating that they have no chance of being recognized as refugees and that they will remain in prison for at least three years and perhaps indefinitely. Under the Anti-Infiltration Law, asylum seekers from “enemy states”, such as Sudan, are to be detained indefinitely. Since they are not told about the possibility of asking for asylum and gaining their freedom if they are found to be refugees, and because they are denied the opportunity to ask for asylum even if they do find out about this possibility from activists who visit the internment camps, some Sudanese detainees have given up hope. As a result, for the past two months, a flight to Khartoum via another country leaves Israel once a week with several dozens of Sudanese from Darfur on it. Sudanese media and ours contacts in Sudan and in the internment camps reported that asylum seekers who returned on two flights were detained by Sudanese Authorities. Sudanese law criminalizes any contact with Israelis as well as visiting Israel.
Please address the head of the Israeli Immigration Authority, Amnon Ben Ami at Fax no. 972-3-6294860 and express your concern about this violation of the non-refoulement principle that forbids deportation of a person to a place where his life or freedom might be in danger.
- In addition to faxing Amnon Ben Ami at 972-3-6294860, you can send him an email via his assistants:
- It would also be helpful to email your local Israeli embassy or consulate. You can find a list here
- Please send copies of your faxes and emails, as well as any responses that you receive, to email@example.com
Sample Letter (If you have time, a more personal letter is always preferable):
Dear Mr. Ben Ami,
Please do not deport detained Eritrean asylum seekers to Uganda, and certainly not to Eritrea.
I have been informed about the unacceptable pressure you are using against asylum seekers (In my eyes they are asylum seekers, even if Israel has not given them a fair chance to obtain that status.) to induce them to “Agree” to leave Israel “Voluntarily” by making it clear that their alternative is to remain imprisoned in detention facilities at least three years.
Specifically, I was informed that this past week some 25 Eritrean asylum seekers who allegedly gave in to this pressure and agreed to be deported to Uganda were taken from the detention facilities and told that they would actually be sent back to possible death or imprisonment in Eritrea. Imprisoning asylum seekers, using detention to pressure them to forgo their rights and endangering them by forced return are forbidden according to international law, and are far from the standards of human decency to which Israel aspires.
Locating third countries that will allow Israel to serve as a way station and can provide a decent absorption process is a very reasonable option, and it would behoove Israel to invest efforts in this direction rather than in forced expulsions. However, it is unlikely that any country meeting these criteria will agree to do so until Israel begins to fairly process RSD applications and agrees to accept some number of refugees herself.
We await your assurances that Israel will not expel Eritreans or Sudanese to places where there well being is in danger, even if they have “agreed.”
If you are Jewish you might also wish to add that “They violate the Jewish imperative not to treat the stranger in our midst as we have been treated all too many times from Egypt until today.”
Sigal Rozen | Public Policy Coordinator | Hotline for Migrant Workers | Tel: 054-8177845