Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday morning announced that he had ordered a stop to all transfers of Eritreans in Israel's detention facilities and out of the country until further notice.
The decision was transmitted by letter from Deputy Attorney-General Dena Zilber to Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) chief Amnon Ben-Ami on Monday night.
The letter said that the order was a response to a report by attorney and activist Yonatan Berman that an Eritrean citizen had been taken from a detention center in southern Israel, flown to Uganda with a stop-over in Egypt, but then returned to Egypt.
According to Zilber, although PIBA had promised the Eritrean that he would be sent to Uganda, the Ugandan authorities had ultimately not agreed, and he was now being held in detention in Egypt.
Zilber said she understood that based on the circumstances, the Eritrean would be returned to Israel by Wednesday.
"In order to prevent, heaven forbid, a recurrence of cases like this, I reiterate and emphasize that I expect the PIBA to follow the guidelines of the attorney-general, which state that Eritrean citizens should not be removed from PIBA detention centers to any destination outside of the borders of Israel, until there is a decision on the legal issues in question.”
The exact circumstances of the transfer are under dispute, but depending on those circumstances, the transfer and any similar ones, could have violated Israel’s treaty obligations under international law especially its obligation to ensure the safety of individuals who are removed from its borders.
The asylum seeker, Tesfamihret Habtemariam, had been in Israel for a few years and was arrested several months ago under the amendment to the “Infiltrators Law.”
According to Eritrean-Swedish human rights activist Meron Estefanos, who contacted The Jerusalem Post about the story Sunday night, Habtemariam left Israel for Uganda on Thursday and at the airport in Uganda was told he would not be allowed to enter. He said he was kept at the airport waiting for four days before Uganda decided to deport him to Eritrea by way of Cairo, where he is now awaiting a flight to Asmara.
Habtemariam's attorney, Lior Peretz, said that he met with his client on many occasions over the past months, and that during the hearings at the court at Saharonim prison he requested to be sent back to Uganda, where his father reportedly lives.
Peretz said his client was happy to return to Uganda and not that he was forced to by the state or did so solely due to the threat of longer incarceration. Peretz said he sounded very at ease and happy once he heard that he had a ticket to Uganda, and would be moving back there. Peretz said that he has not heard from his client since Thursday, though he promised to call him once he arrived. In addition, Peretz said that once he heard about what reportedly happened to Habtemariam he told another client in the process of agreeing to return to Uganda to put things on hold for now.
The HMW and the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees (UNHCR) both said there does not appear to be any sort of coordination between Israeli authorities and the Ugandan government on the matter of resettling Eritrea asylum seekers in Uganda.
Ben Hartman contributed to this story.