Eritrean asylum seekers in detention in Israel are being urged by immigration officials to make voluntary return to their home country, saying there is no other way they can be released, according to a statement by the Hotline for Migrant Workers this week.
A press release by HMW says that they have received testimony from five detainees who said they were told by immigration officers, prison officials, and translators that their only way to be freed is to agree to go back to Eritrea or to Uganda.
Eritrea is run by a dictatorship and is considered one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Asylum seekers who return could very well be in danger of persecution by the regime.
The HMW said they were told by a group of asylum seekers that a group of 25 Eritreans agreed to return to Uganda and were taken on Monday to Ben-Gurion International Airport where they were told they were boarding a flight to Eritrea. They were then taken to an immigration office in Beer Sheva where they told officials they would not return to Eritrea, according to the HMW.
The HMW said “while Israel does not forcibly deport Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, in the past few months it has placed considerable pressure on detainees from these countries to sign consent form to "voluntary return," stating that they have no chance of being recognized as refugees and that they will remain in prison for at least three years and perhaps indefinitely.”
The statement by HMW claims that for the past two months dozens of migrants from north Sudan, afforded group protection by Israel because Sudan is an enemy state, have been leaving Israel on weekly flights to Khartoum via a third country.
Sigal Rozen Public Policy Coordinator of HMW said that she had checked with NGOs and human rights activists in Uganda who said that they had not heard about the upcoming arrival of any Eritrean asylum seekers.
When asked if there was an agreement reached with Uganda to serve as a return country for Eritrean migrants, a source at the Foreign Ministry said any such questions would have to be asked of the Interior Ministry.
The Spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority Sabine Haddad said she did not know about a group of Eritreans facing possible return, but did say that hundreds of north Sudanese have agreed to be repatriated in recent months, as well as a small number of Eritreans.
Haddad added that her office is checking this particular incident, and in no case do they deport migrants against their will.