5 April 2018

The Truth about Voluntary Repatriation of Eritrean Refugees to Africa from Israel

Israel wishes the world to believe that Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel are being offered a voluntary option of a guaranteed safe return to a friendly country in East Africa, all agreed and paid for by Israel. According to the Israel ministry of Interior, 4,500 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda under this Israeli scheme. 

The only truth in this offer is that the air fares are paid by Israel and a “bribe” of USD3,500 is paid to each returnee.

But this is not voluntary: the alternative is indefinite imprisonment in Israel.

And this is not a “guarantee” of safety legally agreed with another African country. No security is promised; no permanent residence provided. No asylum or refugee status is offered to them.

What happened when Eritrean refugees arrived in Uganda? How true was the guarantee arranged by Israel and offered by Uganda? How safe were they?

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea managed to speak to some Eritreans who were sent from Israel to Uganda, in February 2018, and we discovered:

On arrival in Uganda, government officials told them never to mention that they had come from Israel. They were not given any guarantees of refugee status, or permission to stay in Uganda. They were taken to a hotel for 3 days and given a fake Certificate of Identity (a paper photo ID), valid for one year, as citizens born in Uganda; their place of birth of the deportees is recorded as Kampala, and the document says they can travel to neighbouring countries. But they were told that this document was on no account to be shown to police or immigration officials in Uganda. They were expected to pretend to the police (to whom they must report) that they had come straight from Eritrea to seek asylum.

Even within Uganda, the scheme supposedly arranged with Israel is clearly unofficial and unrecognised. Uganda is clearly unwilling to grant refugee status to those forcibly removed from Israel. Uganda is only offering temporary transit on their journey to another unspecified country. There are no guarantees of safety or status offered by the Ugandan state to such Eritreans; they are once again treated as transient migrants.

The truth about this Israeli offer has suddenly been revealed — by the states which had supposedly agreed to receive the Eritrean refugees. On 3rd April 2018, Uganda joined Rwanda in denying it had ever clinched an agreement with Israel to absorb migrants deported from the Jewish state, with the Ugandan foreign minister saying it wouldn’t allow Israel to “dump their refugees here.” He said that if any migrants deported from Israel arrive in his country, “we will insist that the airlines return them to the country where they came from.”

There is only one inescapable conclusion: this supposedly “safe return to Africa” offer by Israel was nothing other than a “backdoor” people-smuggling racket, dressed up in utterly false assurances from the Israeli government and deceptive act by the recipient countries Rwanda and Uganda. 

The three countries (Israel, Rwanda and Uganda) which have been involved in trafficking and bartering asylum seekers for cash or arms are parties to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.

Furthermore, Uganda hosts over 1 million refugees from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and Eritrea, while Israel hosts about 39,000 asylum seekers including children. Israel's GDP per capita is‎: USD ‎$44,019; while Uganda's GDP per capita is: USD 653.2. This clearly shows that Uganda is a very poor country, which cannot afford to support refugees financially. In addition, because of the political and socio-economic problems in neighbouring countries, thousands of asylum seekers are entering Uganda every month.

The total number of asylum seekers in Israel is nothing compared to those in Uganda. What is motivating Uganda to want to give entry to the 39,000 asylum seekers from Israel? Is it perhaps the $5,000 USD per asylum seeker which Uganda, like Rwanda, receives from Israel? There is a simple word to describe this deal: it is “Corrupt”; people’s lives are being traded for cash.

According to the World Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, Uganda ranks 151 out of 180 countries. Perhaps Israel’s rating on this index should be adjusted by this corrupt deal.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

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