Israel has started its deportation plan, imprisoning seven Eritreans who refused to leave Israel. The seven men were moved from Holot, an open detention center, to Saharonim prison for indefinite incarceration. On 20 February, 750 asylum seekers in Holot began a hunger strike. The protestors demand the release of the seven prisoners and that no more be imprisoned.
The seven who refused to leave Israel said –according to media – that “prison here is better than death in Africa”.
Deportation or indefinite incarceration
Last December the Israeli government, the Knesset, approved an amendment to the ‘infiltrator’s law’. This law paves the way to the deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers. The government gives the choice to leave ‘volunterily’, accompanied by a sum of $3,500 and a plane ticket, or be imprisoned. Asylum seekers have to make a decision by April 1. Anyone who has not left by then will be imprisoned.
Last Sunday, authorities started issuing notices to asylum seekers, giving them 60 days before deportation to an unnamed African country – which media report are Uganda or Rwanda – or indefinite incarceration. Currently 600 asylum seekers have been given notice that they must decide between deportation and imprisonment in Saharonim.
The United Nations Refugee Organisation, UNHCR, appealed to Israel to halt its policy of ‘relocating’ Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa after they identified 80 cases in which people relocated by Israel risked their lives by taking dangerous onwards journeys to Libya and Europe.
Court rules Eritrean draft dodgers eligible for asylum
In Tel Aviv, a Justice Ministry’s immigration Tribunal has ruled that an Eritrean draft dodger should be entitled to asylum based on international conventions. The ruling found that Eritrean ‘draft dodgers’ have a “very well-founded basis for persecution” and should therefore be granted asylum.
This ruling sets a precedent for the asylum request of thousands of Eritrean nationals who are facing deportation. The organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants will demand that the Ministry of Interior will stop detaining and deporting Eritreans whose asylum claims were rejected.
However, reports say that the Israeli government is most likely to appeal against the ruling. There are approximately 40.000 African migrants in Israel, of which 28.000 are Eritrean. The vast majority arrived between 2005 and 2012. Until now, Israel has refused to process the vast majority of the asylum seekers’ applications. Only 11 refugees have been granted a permit. Israeli officials say that deserting the army is not enough to grant asylum and that most refugees are ‘infiltrators’ looking for a job.
In a statement, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and the organization Aid organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) denounced the new policy:
“This is the first step in what is a globally unprecedented deportation operation, a move tainted by racism and complete disregard for the life and dignity of asylum seekers. It is mind-boggling that Uganda and Rwanda agree to take part in this deportation plan and enable Israel to treat African asylum seekers, some of them fleeing from genocide and dictatorship, in this manner.”
They also called for a rally against the deportation for this Saturday, the 24th of February.
The group Eritreans United for Justice have organized “morale days” to ask asylum seekers not to give in and refuse deportation. This will increase pressure on Saharonim prison as there are only 500 beds in Saharonim for asylum seekers who refuse deportation.