Only a day after Interior Minister Eli Yishai vowed to explore ways to return
Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to their home countries, UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday accused Eritrea of carrying out wide-scale
human rights abuses.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday,
Pillay said that in Eritrea “credible sources indicate that violations of human
rights include arbitrary detention, torture, summary executions, forced labor,
forced conscription and restrictions to freedom of movement, expression,
assembly and religion.” Pillay also said there are between 5,000 and 10,000
political prisoners in the East African country of around six million.
Sunday, as 123 South Sudanese migrants were being deported to their homeland,
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the real problem “is with Eritrea that has
30,000 people [in Israel] and north Sudan with 15,000,” and expressed his hope
that “the legal obstacles to this will be lifted soon and we can expel them as
Numbers vary on the size of the Eritrean migrant community in
Israel, but they are estimated to account for between 75 and 85 percent of over
60,000 illegal African migrants in the country.
Under international law
they cannot be returned to their homeland, due to the likelihood that they could
face persecution upon return.
Earlier this month Yishai met with Eritrean
ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste and after the meeting told Ynet: “I met with the
Eritrean ambassador to Israel who told me of the situation there, and the
situation there is good. Security-wise, it is no more dangerous than Sderot.”
Tekeste is scheduled to attend a meeting on June 25 of the Knesset Committee on
Foreign Workers, which is expected to discuss the possibility of deporting
Eritreans back home.
An April 2011 UN High Commission on Refugees report
on Eritrea, titled “UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International
Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Eritrea” stated: “The climate of
intolerance of political dissent in Eritrea has reportedly led to frequent
arrests of suspected government critics. Those arrested are often held in
incommunicado detention or ‘disappear’ in secret detention facilities, where
they are reportedly held in poor conditions and denied access to legal counsel
or medical treatment. Severe punishments, torture, starvation and other ill
treatment are commonplace.”
The report also states that the GDP per
capita for Eritrea in 2010 was less than $423 and that imports account for 40
percent of GDP, meaning that “the cost of living, particularly in urban areas,
is steadily increasing beyond the reach of most Eritreans.”
services remain limited and poverty is reportedly widespread. Basic consumer
needs, such as food and energy, are increasingly hard to meet,” the report
Sharon Harel of the UNHCR branch in Israel said there were a few
cases over the past decade of countries sending Eritreans back home, including
Malta in 2004, Libya in 2008 and Egypt in 2010. She said in all those cases a
number of the returnees were reportedly tortured following their
Harel said in terms of international law and the granting of
refugee status for asylum seekers, Eritrea is in a class of its own along with
When asked about the feasibility of Yishai finding a legal
way to return the Eritreans, Harel said that while Israel and Eritrea have
friendly relations, a deportation can only be done legally if the host country
can ensure the safety of the deportee upon their return.
“It’s not at all
realistic to expect that he will be able to find a legal way to ensure a safe
return. This is not the situation in Eritrea,” Harel said.
A request for
a response from the Eritrean Embassy in Israel was not answered by press time.