Deported Sudanese Asylum Seeker Involuntarily Returned to Israel

Returns to Tel Aviv and then transferred to Holot after spending eight nights in Ethiopia airport, where authorities threatened to send him to Khartoum.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A Sudanese asylum seeker who agreed to leave Israel for a third African country, but found himself about to be deported back to Sudan from Ethiopia, was returned to Israel against his will on Thursday and transferred Sunday to the detention center in Holot.

The man was stuck at the airport in Addis Ababa for eight days but, despite repeated appeals, representatives of the UN Refugee Agency in Ethiopia did not come to see him. The Ethiopian immigration authorities eventually forced him to board a plane back to Israel. Israeli authorities say they will review the case before decided their next move.

The story of this person, who was an activist and one of the leaders of the protests by asylum seekers in Israel, was first reported in Haaretz last week. His name has not been revealed for his own safety.

He stated that he didn’t know his final destination until he arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where he was told by officials that he was going to Ethiopia. When he arrived there and tried to leave the airport, he was told by Ethiopian immigration officials that he could not leave, and would be on the next flight to Khartoum, Sudan. He refused to board that flight and was subsequently stuck at the airport. His suitcase went on to Sudan.

Fearing expulsion to Sudan, the man contacted asylum seekers in Israel right after meeting Ethiopian immigration officials. UN Refugee Agency representatives in Israel were informed of the case, and they contacted their counterparts in Ethiopia, in an attempt to forestall his deportation to his country of origin.

The man escaped from Sudan after armed militias attacked his village in Darfur, killing his grandfather and grandmother. In Israel, he was locked up in Saharonim detention facility for over two months, after which he lived and worked in Tel Aviv. He was recently summoned to the Holot detention center in the Negev but didn’t go there. Two weeks ago, he was caught by immigration authority inspectors and agreed to leave for a third country, in order to avoid going to Holot. According to his testimony, he adamantly refused to go back to Sudan, where he feared he would be killed by the authorities.

“I was expelled from Israel on Tuesday night and arrived here on Wednesday morning,” he told Haaretz, in a conversation conducted while he was still in Ethiopia. He stressed that he preferred going to a third country over being sent to Holot for an indefinite duration.

“I didn’t want to go to Holot,” he said. “What did I do to deserve going there? They caught me in the street and asked why I didn’t show up at Holot. I answered that I hadn’t done anything wrong that warranted sending me to prison. They told me that if I didn’t want Holot, I could go to a third country. I agreed, on condition that I would be protected there. They gave me a ticket to Ethiopia at the airport and escorted me to the plane. When I arrived here and wanted to go into the city, I was told that I was only in transit and was about to continue to Sudan. I told them that I was promised a third country and couldn’t go to Sudan. They insisted that I was going straight there.”

Ethiopian immigration officials told him he could only leave the airport if he agreed to go to Sudan. “On Wednesday I talked to UN people here and they promised to come see me. They promised again yesterday, but didn’t show up. I don’t know what will happen. Can’t they help me after a whole week? I’ve been stuck at the airport for a week, sleeping on seats, still in the same clothes since my suitcase went on to Sudan.”

He said he was given $3,500 at Ben-Gurion airport but that this was stolen or lost on the first night he was there, along with a passport, in another person’s name, that he was given by Israeli authorities. He was left without a thing. “Ethiopian Airlines occasionally give me some food,” he added.

A month ago, Haaretz reported that over the last few months Israel has been secretly flying asylum seekers to Uganda and Rwanda. Israel is not divulging details of its agreements with these countries, but numerous testimonies have shown that these people’s status is not arranged, and that they are not afforded even basic rights. Often, they are left with no official documentation.

A similar case was reported previously by Haaretz. Dr Rami Godovich, a human rights activist, relates how, three months ago at Addis Ababa airport, he met by chance an asylum seeker from Eritrea who had agreed to leave Israel for Ethiopia. However, immigration officials would not let him leave the airport and he was worried about being deported to Eritrea. Eventually he did manage to leave the airport, and is now in Ethiopia without any legal status or rights.