Eritrean and Sudanese migrants protest against forced deportations from Israel
Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90. Migrants protest in Jerusalem.
TMP – 29/01/2018
Dozens of asylum seekers gathered outside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem on 21 January to protest against the government’s plans to forcibly deport Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to Uganda and Rwanda.
Last month, the Israeli parliament approved an amendment to the so-called Infiltrator’s Law mandating the closure of the country’s largest detention facility and the forced deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.
Migrants are now being told that if their application for asylum fails, they must either leave Israel within three months with a lump cash sum or face imprisonment.
Many are afraid to return to their country of origin, and say they will choose jail rather than leave.
The UN has called on Israel to scrap its new programme forcing thousands of African migrants out of the country, condemning it as incoherent and unsafe. That scheme has led to thousands of people being offered US$3,500 and a plane ticket if they leave the country by March, with a warning they may face arrest after that deadline.
Nearly 40,000 African migrants live in Israel, according to numbers released by the Interior Ministry. Roughly 72 percent are Eritrean and 20 percent are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the tens of thousands of Africans who are living in Israel illegally are not legitimate refugees or asylum seekers, but instead are economic migrants.
At an earlier and larger protest outside the Rwandan embassy in neighbouring Herzlya, asylum seekers and Israeli protesters held signs picturing Eritrean asylum seekers who were deported from Israel to Rwanda and died while trying to get to safety in another country, The Times of Israel reported.
“We are here today to demonstrate against the arrangement between Israel and Rwanda to deport us for money,” said Halefom Sultan, a 33-year-old father of two from Eritrea who has been in Israel since 2009. “We cannot go back to Eritrea, and Israel knows this, but we should not have to go to Rwanda. Israel has the ability and responsibility to give us safety,” he said.
Yohnass, who was a student in Eritrea when he fled army service, is among many who say they would prefer to be jailed than deported, even with the offer of a cash incentive.
“People say it is better going to jail than going to a third country. The government of Rwanda does not protect refugees and most of those who agreed to go there have left,” he told The Guardian.
Although the threat of deportation is suspended for those who have applied for refugee status, Yohnass is not optimistic about the outcome of his application. “Most of the applications have been rejected.”
Migrants deported to Rwanda told local media they were dropped off at an international border in the middle of the night, without documents, and told to cross illegally.
Between 10 to 20 Eritrean deportees from Israel have died while looking for safety in another country, according to the Eritrean Women’s Community Center.