Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) is seriously concerned at reports that, by the end of March 2018, Eritrean asylum-seekers will be deported from Israel to Eritrea, or to equally dangerous situations in Rwanda or Uganda, from which they may well be forcibly returned to their country of origin. HRCE is deeply concerned that they will be in grave danger of imprisonment, torture and serious maltreatment if returned to Eritrea.
During the month of December 2017 the Israeli Knesset passed a bill that would enable the government to detain indefinitely or deport asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. Subsequent to this, on January 1, 2018, Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) announced plans to indefinitely detain thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese men if they refuse to leave for Rwanda or Uganda by the end of March 2018. Israel terms these enforced returns (under threat of imprisonment) “humane” and “voluntary.” Eritrean refugees in Israel have until the end of March to accept the government’s offer or face indefinite imprisonment in Israel.
Although Uganda and Rwanda deny any agreement with Israel, several testimonies of Eritreans who were sent to Rwanda confirm the fact that they were left without any status or permit and were therefore forced again to look for another place of refuge. After having been expelled from Israel, some of them have lost their lives at the hand of ISIS. To protest the impossible choice they have been presented with, refugees have held mock slave auctions in front of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, the Knesset, and the Rwandan Embassy in Herzilya. The refugees are not the only ones who know what might await them once they are deported, as many have already expressed their solidarity with the refugees and some airline pilots have shown it by already declaring they refuse to take “refugees to their deaths”.
The most cruel and irresponsible Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki in his recent interview with local journalists expressed his willingness to take all Eritrean refugees from Israel back to their country, if he is paid US $40,000 repatriation fees per person. He also said that, so far, the Israeli authorities have not agreed to pay him the requested amount.
Thousands of Eritreans have entered Israel through the Sinai border in a bid to escape persecution for their political and religious beliefs, or because to flee the time-unlimited national service, which in Eritrea is used as slave labour and where many young conscripts suffer rape, sexual abuse, and harsh imprisonment. These refugees are entitled to have their cases fully and seriously reviewed in a credible asylum process. Instead, Israel classes these Eritreans as “infiltrators” and does not regard them as genuine refugees; neither does it accord them due process of an impartial review of their cases for asylum, nor recognise the human rights dangers of the Eritrean National Service system.
Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, said, “The illegal forcible repatriation of Eritrean asylum-seekers from Israel even under the guise of “voluntary return” sets a hugely disturbing precedent in violation of international refugee law. Any Eritrean refugees returned to a country in the same region of Africa, such as Rwanda or Uganda, would be immediately vulnerable to torture, destitution, kidnap and enforced return to Eritrea. We fear that, if returned to a territory within the reach of Eritrean forces or security agents, these refugees would be particularly targeted by the Eritrean Government for harassment and even violence. Moreover, evidence abounds that if returned to Eritrea, they face imprisonment and torture, and possible execution for exercising their inherent right to leave a country in which they face grave danger and injustice.
Returnees are forced to sign the “repentance” form (for leaving their country illegally), and have to accept any punishments. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea reports that “after interrogation, they are detained in particularly harsh conditions, often to ensure that they will not escape again. Returnees …were held in prison between eight months and three years”. It is essential that all UN member states declare their opposition to this flagrant disregard of international law by Israel, which has the potential of further endangering vulnerable refugees.”