- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Prison or Poverty – The Choice of the Israel Deportees
For Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers facing deportation from Israel's Holot detention centre, the future is bleak. Those who have gone before describe a hand-to-mouth existence in Uganda or no freedom of movement in Rwanda.
"There was no difference with the life in Israel," Abush Mekonen, one of eight Eritrean asylum-seekers deported to Rwanda in July 2014, told IRIN. Mekonen said they had been promised jobs in Rwanda but instead were confined to a hotel. "We were not allowed to move or go out."
Israel has been encouraging asylum-seekers to leave the country for the past year by offering them one-off grants of $3,500 and one-way tickets home or to "safe" third countries in Africa. At the end of March, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan gave asylum-seekers 30 days to return to their own countries or accept "voluntary" deportation. Refusal to do either will result in a hearing followed by possible indefinite detention in a prison for irregular migrants called Sa'aronim. In the past year, about 7,000 have opted to return home, while 1,500 accepted so-called voluntary deportation to third countries, according to immigration figures. Although the government has not named the third countries being used for deportations, testimonies gathered from deportees suggest they are Uganda and Rwanda.
Returning to Eritrea was not on option, he added. "If I agreed to go back home, I would be heading straight away to prison. We had no choice; we opted to be deported to Rwanda." Miki Bereket, another Eritrean asylum-seeker deported last July, said the group was originally offered two options before being told it had to be Rwanda. "When we reached there, we realized we were not wanted in Rwanda either," he said.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers spoke with asylum-seekers already sent to both Rwanda and Uganda. Reut Michaeli, the hotline's executive director, said their testimonies showed neither Uganda nor Rwanda should be considered "safe" countries. "Documents and money are taken from the asylum seekers when they arrive from Israel and they are not granted any legal status or given formal protection from deportation," he explained. "They are forced to keep searching for refuge in other places and are exposed to abuse and exploitation." He described the transfer of asylum-seekers to other countries without agreements and commitments to ensure they will be protected as "a blatant violation of international law."
"Uganda is a free country," said Bereket, speaking in the capital, Kampala. "But it's hard to cope with life and survive in Uganda without money."