From Eritrea to Israel to Uganda to Egypt and back to Eritrea: army deserter faces death sentence after deportation debacle

Tesfamihret Habtemariam spent six days living in Cairo airport room after being refused asylum in Uganda An Eritrean man who sought asylum in Israel but voluntarily left the country after he agreed to be deported to

Tesfamihret Habtemariam spent six days living in Cairo airport room after being refused asylum in Uganda

An Eritrean man who sought asylum in Israel but voluntarily left the country after he agreed to be deported to Uganda, is now back in Eritrea where he likely faces severe prosecution and possible death as an army deserter.

Tesfamihret Habtemariam, 28, was denied entry to Uganda last Thursday and put on a flight to Egypt, where he had connected on his way from Israel. He spent six days detained in an enclosed room at Cairo airport, while authorities and human rights groups tried to persuade him to fly back to Israel.

But having spent the last few months in an Israeli prison as an illegal immigrant, with the likelihood of three more years incarcerated on return, Mr Habtemariam decided to fly home. “It is my choice. For me it is better,” he said through tears on the phone, hours before his departure.

Israel has around 60,000 immigrants from Africa, the majority Eritrean, most of who entered the country illegally over the last decade. But its controversial attempts to deport them have sparked controversy, for methods include imprisonment, detention centres and so-called voluntary repatriations, where the choice is to leave the country or remain in prison for three years under legislation called ‘Infiltrators Law.’

Mr Habtemariam spent years living in Israel but was arrested several months ago, put in prison, and “tricked” into signing up for voluntary repatriation to Uganda, says human rights activist and journalist Meron Estefanos.

“The government bought him the ticket to fly to Uganda. But Israel has no deal with Uganda. They’re just dumping people in Uganda and hoping somebody will take him,” she said.

While at Cairo airport Mr Habtemariam was made to sleep on the floor, given a bread and rice once a day and his only source of recreation was a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Over the phone he assessed his hopeless situation. “I don’t have a choice. I don’t want to go home to Eritrea…. I don’t want to go to Israel.”

Despite the efforts of the UN in Israel to persuade him otherwise, and despite facing possible death in Eritrea, Mr Habtemariam decided to fly home on Wednesday evening.

“He knows that he will be prosecuted but he says that being prosecuted in Eritrea is better than being imprisoned in Israel,” said Ms Estefanos, who first alerted the Israeli press last weekend.

Mr Habtemariam’s private lawyer, Lior Peretz, confirmed that his client would almost certainly face three years in jail should he return, but said it was a better option that Eritrea where “the chance is they will kill him. That is what happens to men who run away from Eritrea and come back later.”

Eritrea remains one of the most repressive countries in the world and the UN estimates that hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled in recent years. On Tuesday, Israel’s attorney general Yehuda Weinstein halted the deportation of Eritrean migrants “to prevent, God forbid, such incidents from occurring again.”

The Independent

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34 COMMENTS
  • ahmed saleh March 10, 2013

    Murad Ali
    You said ; “we are all racists in our own way ” . If we look ourself at a mirror and ask ourselves
    are we indeed racists ? Honestly speaking yes we are . Izi barya , izi Agame , izi khemzi wedi khemzi
    had been our weak and negative thought till present time . Even in diaspora we see many Eritreans
    reserved not to fit in communities outside their own . Not only that , even among ourselves there is
    some kind crooked tendency to bring regional , ethnical or religious influence to create mistrut and
    divisions . We need to differ from indifference , mistrust and hatred because we have obligation to do
    something positive . To defeat racism do not use racism in return but rather the weapon of unity and solidarity would do the job .

    • murad ali March 10, 2013

      Salam Ahmed,

      We are on the same page.

  • mona March 10, 2013

    kabakum si adi wielu hzbi Ertra! gual mengedi hizka mihwtat koynu srahkum. kab pfdj nskum tgedu. kulu hade kilte sebat meswati kefilom nexa kewxuwo iyu zxbe. baelu kiswae zideli gn yelen. meftihi nayzi xegem kemxie zibges Ertrawi tesaenu alo. kulna nenihdhidna kinakot haymanotna kenexebabik neti hade kenenaes dnkurnana mekeni yeblun. kulna neseyas bketitan btezewawarn ndgfo alena. dhri haxir ewan hzbn hagern Ertra zbhal kab gex meriet kitefie iyu. mknyatu nhna nezi nmklkal kurubnet kenerie fikadegnatat aykonan.
    Ertrawi mkuan zehfir iyu.

  • Sina March 10, 2013

    Hassena,

    What is Meron saying? “. . . . .Eritrea is better than being imprisoned in Israel,” said Ms Estefanos .. . . . . .”

  • salma a. March 10, 2013

    sina dear,
    ask meron what she may or may not have said. would u?

  • Harnetna2013 March 10, 2013

    May be Meron Stifanos wasn’t aware to say ‘Eritrea prison was better than Israel’ Meron Stifanos is not human rights, there was many reports about her being siding with HGDF or ignoring many complaints in Shegarb…We heard enough about her, She holds Erina Radio which made it more difficult to measure her, but i am sure there is something relation or links with HGDF either way. Because there were many reports about her in the past years despite we know she had reports some few things about sinai. I have only 50% trust in her.

  • sara_mai temenai March 10, 2013

    ..what shaabiya kept it going was HATE campaign towards Amharay; before. Agame now..from an imagined/perceived “crimes” commited on the people of Eritrea. But, what crimes..???? We were blind from absoulte hatred for no tangible reason. This hate camapaign is still a tool the PFDJ uses to hit against its enemies. This time, sadly, against the hafash itself – in the form of escapees, democratic reformers, etc, etc..upto the point of killing on the spot.

    Tesfamihret’s journey is indicative of the extent of desperatioin faced by our people, thanks to PFDJ and sick supporters.

    To make matters worst, we in the opposition are just sitting there hoping someone will go and just remove the GoE..

    I challenge…

    IF THINGS ARE TO GO THIS WAY, WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN TO THE NATION, SAY TEN YEARS LATER????

    • luwam May 9, 2013

      shaabiya kept it going was HATE campaign towards Amharay; before. Agame now..from an imagined/perceived “crimes” commited on the people of Eritrea. But, what crimes..???? We were blind from absoulte hatred for no tangible reason.
      what did u mean by those nonsense words????????
      How on earth could u say that or may be u spent all ur life abroad.
      Don’t u know what our enenies has done to us or r u one of them.
      what a very stupid comment! You should know what u write next time.

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