Deportation or prison: Israel’s African asylum seekers

Al Jazeera speaks to Eritreans in Israel who are facing a tough decision: deportation or imprisonment. In January 2018, Israel approved a plan that asked asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention in an Israeli prison or deportation to a

Al Jazeera speaks to Eritreans in Israel who are facing a tough decision: deportation or imprisonment.

In January 2018, Israel approved a plan that asked asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention in an Israeli prison or deportation to a third country in Africa.

Rwanda and Uganda are reported to be the countries accepting those deported from Israel, despite denials from both governments.

According to the scheme, asylum seekers will be given a plane ticket and up to $3,500 for leaving, however, many are choosing to stay in Israel, rather than risk returning to Africa.

Many of the asylum seekers come from war-ravaged Eritrea and Sudan, however, Israel does not recognise the majority as refugees, claiming that they are economic migrants or “illegal infiltrators”.

Teklit arrived in 2006 and found work in a restaurant, before moving to an NGO that advocated on behalf of Tel Aviv’s African community.

“When I was in Eritrea, I was an athlete and also a student,” says Teklit. “Without any reason, the Eritrean regime detained me and forced me into the army. I left my country because I became hopeless in my own country, I became dreamless in my own country.”

He says Israeli officials are systematically failing to process asylum claims in accordance with international law, by blocking or choosing not to submit the claims.

“They never give us a chance to fill out the asylum application,” he says. “Sometimes they reject automatically out of hand, for no reason, without checking our claims.”

Returning to Eritrea is not an option for Teklit, who believes he would be imprisoned.

“I left my country because I was not safe in my country. If I go back to my country, I am sure there will be imprisonment because I crossed the border illegally and I am active against the Eritrean regime and against its crimes, so I am in danger if I go back to my country. Not just me, every Eritrean who left the country will be in danger.”

‘Go back to Africa’

Eden Tesfamariam came to Israel with her husband and two children 10 years ago. Since then, she has given birth to a daughter who is now in kindergarten. She also works for an NGO.

“All of the men that fled from Eritrea, most of them were in the army … even if the man fled from the army then the government came and they took or they arrested the family. Especially as a wife, with kids, I don’t want to be in prison,” she says.

When Eden’s husband deserted the army, Eden was imprisoned for two months in an underground facility with her then-one-year-old daughter. Soon, the family was reunited in a refugee camp in Sudan, but this proved to be no safer.

“Sudan is also the same situation, like Eritrea, because if you sit in the refugee camp, there are smugglers, maybe they kidnap you, maybe they kidnap the kids to get the money.”

While the Israeli government are taking a tough stance on asylum seekers, the response from the public has been mixed.

“Some neighbours blame us,” says Eden. “They are talking about colour, [saying] ‘Go back to Africa.'”

However, many Israelis have joined protests against their government’s “voluntary deportation programme”.

“We disagree with the decision of our government, especially as Jews, says Rabai Nava Kheferz, an anti-deportation protester. “We are a people of refugees, of asylum seekers for 2,000 years, and we are here to say that now that we are in a sovereign state, we have to deal with other asylum seekers worldwide.”

‘I am in danger if I go back to my own country’

Teklit Michael and Eden Tesfamariam have lived in the Israeli capital Tel Aviv for around 10 years. Both of them say they fled Eritrea to escape the military.

“All of the men that fled from Eritrea, most of them were in the army … even if the man fled from the army then the government came and they took or they arrested the family. Especially as a wife, with kids, I don’t want to be in prison,” she says.

When Eden’s husband deserted the army, Eden was imprisoned for two months in an underground facility with her then-one-year-old daughter. Soon, the family was reunited in a refugee camp in Sudan, but this proved to be no safer.

“Sudan is also the same situation, like Eritrea, because if you sit in the refugee camp, there are smugglers, maybe they kidnap you, maybe they kidnap the kids to get the money.”

While the Israeli government are taking a tough stance on asylum seekers, the response from the public has been mixed.

“Some neighbours blame us,” says Eden. “They are talking about colour, [saying] ‘Go back to Africa.'”

However, many Israelis have joined protests against their government’s “voluntary deportation programme”.

“We disagree with the decision of our government, especially as Jews, says Rabai Nava Kheferz, an anti-deportation protester. “We are a people of refugees, of asylum seekers for 2,000 years, and we are here to say that now that we are in a sovereign state, we have to deal with other asylum seekers worldwide.”

For Teklit, the support from Israeli people has not come as a surprise.

“It’s not a Jewish value what the government are doing, they are also protecting the image of the country. It’s not just about me, it’s about the country. For the last 10 years, not the government, but the people became my saviours, became my family, became part of me,” says Teklit.

“For the last 10 years, I’ve survived because of the Israeli people and because of the Israeli public, but the system is completely made to break me and to kick me out of the country and to let me down.”

Forced labour, rape and murder

A 2015 report by the United Nations, based on interviews with 500 Eritrean refugees around the world, found that the country’s military is operating as a recruitment tool for forced labour.

Beyond defending the country, the military has become an instrument of oppression, according to Eritrean refugees, with young men being forced to serve for unlimited service under brutal conditions.

Mike Smith, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, highlighted the country’s military and national service programmes as concerning because of “their arbitrary and indefinite duration, the use of conscripts as forced labour, including manual labour, the inhumane conditions of service, rape and torture associated with service”.

Smith also noted the “devastating impact” the programmes have on family life and freedom of choice for Eritreans. The investigators concluded that there was evidence that crimes against humanity including enslavement, forced disappearance, torture and murder had occurred in Eritrea since 1991.

Many who flee Eritrea initially arrive in neighbouring Sudan but move on due to conflicts and economic instability within the country, travelling through Egypt to reach Europe or Israel.

‘It’s better to sit in jail … Africa is Africa’

For Teklit, stories of smugglers selling asylum seekers into slavery in Libya have convinced him that remaining in Israel is the safest option, even if being imprisoned is the only way to stay.

“It’s better for me to be safe until I go back to my home, which means it’s better for me to stay in prison than to go to Uganda or Rwanda … A lot of people who were deported from Israel were killed,” he says.

“As a person, I have a dream: to grow and to become a human being. I have been here [in Israel] for 10 years, I started from scratch, now I know the language, I know the culture, I know the country, I can survive now, but they’re pushing me to start from scratch again.”

“I’m not going to Rwanda,” says Eden. “It’s better to sit in jail, to sit in prison, because Africa is Africa. It is the same situation … I’m afraid to get [involved in] that slave trade, like what happened in Libya.

“My hope is, if I get a chance, I would like to go out of Israel because I can’t continue this life. It is not a life.”

Source: Al Jazeera News

 
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5 COMMENTS
  • rezen March 3, 2018

    QUOTE: “ I’m not going to Rwanda,” says Eden. “It’s better to sit in jail,to sit in prison, because Africa a Africa.” “My hope is, if I get a chance, I would like to go out of Israel because I can’t continue this life. It is not a life.” UNQUOTE
    Commentary, 3 March 2017 YES – YES, a thousand times – Africa is Africa.
    And so, if we have to cry for our BIRTH PLACES, I CRY FOR MY BELOVED BIRTH PLACE ‘ERITREA’ who could not even retain ITS OWN NATURAL INDIGENOUS NAME!!!
    Let us look at ourselves – diaspora Eritreans. We are well secured and tranquil in foreign places and spend our free times ኣብ ምጽራፍን ቆሎ – ጥጥቖን squabbling and insulting each other – a perfect universal example of hopeless people. Yes, HOPELESS. Eritreans sacrificed their precious LIFE for thirty years of struggle for liberty and freedom and yet CANNOT do anything, about an indigenous dictator who denied them the very quality of Life that they fought for and sacrificed their precious people. Think about i!!! What happened to the valour displayed, as even attested and admired by the world.
    Now, let us go to another bizarre situation. We are witnessing a strange phenomenon, where Highly Educated Eritrean Intellectuals of the Highest Order with Doctor of philosophy Degrees from Ivy League Universities cannot get together to draft a PLAN of COURSE of ACTION for the liberation of the Eritrean people from ONE INDIGENOUS DICTATOR. And we are ONLY talking about a committee consisting of only twelve (12) Scholars to get together and draft a PLAN of ACTION to extricate Eritrea from one dictator!!!
    YES – we can say it a thousand times – BLACK AFRICA WILL ALWAYS REMAIN BLACK AFRICA.
    Excuse me for being so ‘savagely’ blunt. THE END

    • Hade March 5, 2018

      You weren’t savage enough. Everything bad that is happening to Eritreans is well deserved if you ask me. All we know is how to suffer and live miserable lives.

  • Hazo March 4, 2018

    The news and articles, many of the deviant slave and Arab Abeeds do not want for real and honest Eritreans to read because the slaves want to protect the empty “honor” of their Arab masters; therefore, cover up this articles in Arabist websites:

    “A Trafficker’s Story

    I buy Eritreans from other Bedouin near my village for about $10,000 each. So far I have bought about 100. I keep them in a small hut about 20 kilometers from where I live and I pay two men to stand guard. I torture them so their relatives pay me to let them go. When I started a year ago, I asked for $ 20,000 per person. Like everyone else I have increased the price. I know this money is haram [shameful], but I do it anyway. This year I made about $200,000 profit.

    The longest I held someone was seven months and the shortest was one month. The last group was four Eritreans and I tortured all of them. I got them to call their relatives and to ask them to pay $33,000 each. Sometimes I tortured them while they were on the phone so the relatives could hear them scream. I did to them what I do to everyone. I beat their legs and feet, and sometimes their stomachs and chest, with a wooden stick. I hang them upside down, sometimes for an hour.

    Three of them died because I beat them too hard. I released the one that paid. About two out of every 10 people I torture pay what I ask. Some pay less and I release them. Others die of the torture. Sometimes when the wounds get bad and I want them to torture them more, I treat their wounds with bandages and alcohol.

    I beat women but not children and I have not raped anyone. My parents don’t know I do this and I don’t want them to know. I’m not interested in speaking to anyone who wants me to stop doing this. The government doesn’t care so I don’t mind talking to you. The police won’t do anything to stop us because they know that if they come to our villages we will shoot. The military might try to get us, but I am young so I don’t think about that.

    I first started doing this because I had no money but saw others making lots of money this way. I know about 35 others who sell or torture Eritreans in Sinai. There are 15 just near my house, living close to each other. We are from different tribes. Some just buy them and sell them on to others, and some of us torture them to get even more money.

    Human Rights Watch”

    • Hade March 6, 2018

      Every Eritrean that paid is complicit in this tragedy if you ask me. Eritreans are to blame for this. Cowards.

  • Rama March 4, 2018

    People like “Rezen” were born in Eritrea,mostly either doubting or not knowing who is their father.
    Their mothers used to intertain several customers in Aba Shawl or similar places, one of whom is possibly the father. That is the background of a rootless who sometimes calls himself “Teklay”.
    Unfortunately, some of these people are now ruling Eritrea, that is why they defend a criminal regime.
    They have never seen the true Eritrea, outside “EndaSwa” and cities. They have never attended a Baito in rural Eritrea, to see how law and order are embedded in our culture.
    That is why the regime of “Deki Khomaro” is against traditional Eritrea. It has done everything to create an identityless Eritrea, devoid of it’s cherished “Higgi Endabba”.
    A proud Nation that solves it’s problems under the shade of a big tree.
    The elderly fathers are treated with great honor and respect. Their wisdom is the most valuable source of learning for the young.
    The Eritrea of my great fathers will prevail.
    May Allah/God accept in His heaven our father Haji Musa and grant His Holiness Abune Antonios heath and long life.
    May Allah/God help us inherit their wisdom.

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