Geeska Afrika Online

Israel’s shame – the treatment of Eritrean refugees

NAIROBI (HAN) March 22. 2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. How many Eritreans have been given full recognition as refugees by the Israeli government?

The answer – as far as I can discern – is just 4.

Most refugees are detained as ‘infiltrators.’

This disgraceful treatment comes despite the world’s acceptance of the appalling human rights abuses in Eritrea, from which so many thousands are forced to flee.

This is a report that I have received from an Israeli human rights activist.


At the moment there are around 43,000 African refugees in Israel, mostly from Eritrea (around 31,500) and Sudan (around 8,500). There are two detention centers for refugees (“Infiltrators” is the Israeli legal term), one “closed detention center” / full prison, called “Saharonim”, holding less than a 1000 refugees at the moment (I’m not sure about this detail), some of which have recently crossed the border, and others under small criminal offences, or as a punishment from the other prison –  “Holot”.
“Holot” is an “open detention center” currently holding 3,300 refugees (full capacity), which are single men arbitrarily picked from the refugee community in Israel (mostly people who have lived and worked in Israel for years now) for up to 12 months. “Holot” is located remotely in the Israeli desert, 50km from the nearest city. The detainees are allowed to wander freely in the desert between 6am and 10pm. They are constantly pressured to leave, including when they ask medical treatment, etc.

The number of 50,000 people detained, mentioned in the latest article from warisboring is probably confused with the total number of refugees in Israel.
Other than that, the warisboring report seem very credible, and is in line with other reports regarding the deportations to Rwanda and Uganda (see a report by IRRI, several reports by the Israeli NGO “Hotline” here, and in the Israeli daily Haaretz, all in English), including the forced smuggling from Rwanda to Uganda. The forced deportation from Israel, which is testified there, seem very probable, but has not been reported before.

Several days ago (March 15th), a very depressing and difficult hearing took place in the supreme court of Israel, in an appeal regarding a new policy by the government to deport refugees with failed asylum claims (in Israel, only 4 Eritreans have gained the refugee status, and no Sudanese, putting Israel with probably the lowest recognition rate (<0.01%) in the world). The deportation to Rwanda/Uganda takes place under confidential agreements, under a gag order from prime minister Netanyahu (Here, in Hebrew).

I believe no other “safe country” agreement exists internationally under an official gag order. In a separate freedom of information case, asking the government for its information regarding the status and fate of the returnees, a supreme court judge gave a decision extending the gag also to this information, since the identity of those countries (i.e. Rwanda and Uganda) will be revealed (here, in Hebrew). In the government’s response to the appeal, it did agree to provide some information: that it had tried to contact 163 “infiltrators” (that term is used also by the judge. The “infiltrator” labeling does not wash off, even after a person has left Israel) that had left Israel. Of those 163, only 52 have responded, and 48 of them “did not report any special problems”.

The deportation policy is putting the entire Eritrean community in Israel in risk.

Full immigration to Israel, i.e. achieving citizenship, residency or any permanent permit, isn’t possible for non-jews, except in very rare cases. Most of the asylum-seekers in Israel have been here for more than 5 years. Since the construction of the fence in the Egypt-Israeli border, more than two years ago, entrance is virtually impossible. Less than 200 asylum seekers have managed to enter in the last two years.
The Egyptian army is shooting-to-kill asylum seekers which try to enter Israel. Recent reports inform regarding the killing of 15 people and another 6 in a separate incident. All of them were Sudanese. Of course, these are rare cases which somehow reached the press. Several years ago, shooting was very common, and more than a hundred dead, in many separate incidents, were reported (and many more were probably unreported).

Another important and less discussed issue is refoulement directly to Eritrea and Sudan. More than 4000 Sudanese, and more than a 1000 Eritreans, have been deported from Israel back to their homelands (see here) under “voluntary return” schemes. Some were deported from prison. There is no information about their fate.




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