Israel Detains Eritrean Refugee for 18 Months Because He Couldn't Prove His Identity

The asylum seeker, who can only be identified as Ibrahim, came to Israel from Eritrea in November 2009; he was imprisoned, with court demanding validation of his birth certificate despite the risk it would pose to him, his family.

Dana Weiler-Polak
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Dana Weiler-Polak

The head of a custody court at the Givon prison has demanded that an asylum seeker from Eritrea validates his birth certificate at the Eritrean embassy, despite the risk this would pose to him and his family, Haaretz has learned.

The asylum seeker, who can only be identified as Ibrahim, came to Israel from Eritrea in November 2009. He was arrested a month later and held at the Givon prison in Ramle for a year and a half. The prolonged detention resulted from the Population and Immigration Authority insisting that he came, in fact, from Ethiopia.

Migrants from Eritrea rest in a building, used to house people waiting to be smuggled into Israel, near the Egyptian-Israeli border in Sinai, December 25, 2010.Credit: Reuters

After Ibrahim finally obtained his Eritrean birth certificate, Mani Pshitizky, a judge in the custody court, decided to have the authenticity of the birth certificate verified by sending it to the Eritrean embassy.

This requirement contradicts the safety guidelines of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR ).

"UNHCR strongly recommends that the identities of asylum seekers should remain confidential. This particularly applies to sharing identities with officials of the government from where the asylum seeker originates," an opinion submitted by the UNHCR to the Interior Ministry read. "The concern is that often people seeking asylum are considered as acting against their own state by seeking asylum and could thereafter be subjected to fines and punishment, further exacerbating their asylum claim."

Four days later, the Population and Immigration Authority told the court it was impossible to fulfill its request, as "approaching the consulate is tantamount to turning him in."

Undeterred, Pshitizky reiterated his request, which was yet again refused. He then ordered Ibrahim released, under the condition he himself approaches the Eritrean embassy to confirm his citizenship there, or leave Israel by May.

Despite this request, the court did not return the birth certificate to Ibrahim, prompting the We Are Refugees non-profit organization to approach the court and ask it to extended his conditional release. In response, Pshitizky ruled Ibrahim should arrive for an interview at the Interior Ministry's infiltrators unit, which will take his case from there. At the interview, Ibrahim was arrested. The authority claims he admitted that the birth certificate was forged.

"Ibrahim's citizenship was questioned, with the Interior Ministry consistently claiming he was Ethiopian. He was released by the court, which offered him an opportunity to prove his citizenship," the Justice Ministry said in response.

The Population and Immigration Authority said that Ibrahim attempted to escape during the interview, and eventually admitted he was Ethiopian, rather than Eritrean, and was therefore immediately returned to custody.

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