TO THE MEMBERS OF THE KNESSET COMMITTEE IN ISRAEL WHO HAVE ENDORSED THE ANTI-INFILTRATION BILL
The text of the bill contains the following provisions: Automatic Criminalization of any person’s entry into Israel without a permit – with no discernment or consideration of the circumstances of his or her entry.
As a defender of the human rights of those Eritreans attempting to escape the horrors that constitute their daily life in Eritrea, I am deeply distressed to learn that such anti-humane measures are being considered by the Knesset Committee. Some of the people who would be affected by this law are hundreds of Eritrean refugees who suffer the worst forms of abuse while trying to reach Israel through Egypt. By labelling refugees and asylum seekers as ‘infiltrators’ they have been effectively criminalised, and left open to even more abuse which is this time ‘legitimised’ because it is supposedly anti-terrorist. The new proposals would also criminalise anybody who attempted to help these innocent and helpless asylum seekers. I myself, therefore, a Human Rights activist, would be subject to five years in prison if I were nearer in person to these displaced people rather than attempting to help them while living in diaspora. I am not, however, a criminal. The 13,000 Eritrean refugees who have ’infiltrated’ Israel are not criminals. They are no more criminal than the millions of Jews who fled Nazi persecution during the Second World War.
The declared purpose of this amendment is to deter asylum seekers, who have been entering Israel in recent years, from doing so. The result would be a massive abuse of human rights. How could a seven-year prison sentence imposed on those who offer humanitarian aid to refugees, and up to fifteen years should a person persist in offering aid after being prosecuted, in any way further human progress?
Although the Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afewerki, maintains a situation where any able-bodied citizen is conscripted into the army for indefinite periods, using the threat of another war with Ethiopia , the State of Israel’s closest ally in Africa, as the ‘reason’, stating that Ethiopia is a ‘threat’ to national security, it should be understood that these soldiers are mainly involuntary; that the average Eritrean has no quarrel with Ethiopia, much less with Israel; the Eritreans entering Israel, those who are lucky enough to arrive alive, are only seeking a decent life where they can work and eat and not be in constant fear of their leader and his inhuman policies. Unfortunately, those who manage to reach Israel receive no medical treatment, no lodgings, no papers, no jobs, and no means for living as normal citizens; the Israeli Parliament has now proposed to resolve this problem by deporting them or locking them up, branding them as criminals.
To enforce the new law, it has been proposed that a prison be built in the Israeli Negev desert that would cost over a billion shekels to erect and run for its first year alone. This huge prison facility would host 10,000 people. Many of these people are already living in a country that is, itself, a giant prison. But Eritrea is not a signatory of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; Israel, however, is a signatory. Israel also joined the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1967, as well as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which elaborates on the ban against deporting asylum seekers.
The State of Israel is currently home to 36,000 thousand asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom have never had their asylum claims checked and are left with no social or medical rights, as well as no right to work.
Israel began drafting an official constitution in 2003. Eritrea never implemented its constitution, and when this was pointed out by some high-profile journalists, they were imprisoned without trial; any criticism of the Eritrean government results in imprisonment. There have been no national elections since Eritrea gained formal independence in 1993. It is a one-party state. This means there is only one choice, and for a persecuted, hungry, and jobless Eritrean, or one who has had their business taken over by the state, and does not wish to languish either in the army for the rest of their lives, or in prisons (some of which are so bad that even the guards try to escape), fleeing to Israel, even at the risk of further tribulation, is the only real choice.
A special court is widely held to exist where judges who also serve as prosecutors are selected by, and only accountable to, the president. Trials are conducted in secret and defendants are not allowed legal representation. Released prisoners and other sources also describe a system of extra-judicial sentencing by secret committees. Although we have no reports of the death sentence being passed by the courts there are numerous reports of summary executions.
The location of most detention centres is not publicised and visits are usually prohibited, including by family members, who are often not officially informed of the detention. The International Committee of the Red Cross is denied access to Eritrean prisoners. Many sites are below ground where prisoners are kept in dark cells. Elsewhere, detainees are held in metal shipping containers where temperatures are believed to reach the high 40s (Centigrade). There are reports of severe overcrowding. Former guards and detainees describe food, water and medical supplies being strictly limited or withheld. There are multiple reports of systematic torture and people dying in detention. Detainees have described a series of punishments where people are tied in painful positions, for as long as weeks at a time.
NGOs are not allowed to operate independently and there are presently no independent journalists in Eritrea. The Reporters Without Borders 2010 annual report ranked Eritrea bottom of 178 countries worldwide for press freedom, and the organisation estimated that around 30 journalists were imprisoned in Eritrea.
Thousands risk their lives to leave the country illegally every month, despite the shoot-to-kill policy reported to be in force on the border. This is fuelling a demand for people smugglers. Unable to leave by normal means, many Eritreans decide to risk kidnap, extortion, rape and death at the hands of the smugglers in order to leave the country. Some end up having their organs removed against their will and sold on the black market.
The Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afewerki, has been using the excuse of ‘national security considerations’ to rob imprison torture and murder his own people for nigh on two decades. It would seem that the State of Israel is prepared to be as immorally repellent by using the same empty rhetoric, fuelled by concerted media campaigns, to help break the spirit of the African nation that has the worst human rights record of them all.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
London, SW7 5WS
12 December 2011