Asylum Seeker Finds Himself Rerouted From Safety Back to Sudan

Activist who chanced upon Sudanese man at Ethiopian airport says his case confirms rumors Israel is deceiving asylum seekers to get them to leave.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Asylum seekers during demonstration in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park in January.
Asylum seekers during demonstration in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park in January.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

An asylum seeker from Sudan, who agreed to leave Israel for a third African country for sheltering, has found himself about to be deported to Sudan from the airport at Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.

The man, whose name is being withheld by Haaretz for his own safety, was an activist and one of the leaders of the protest movement of asylum seekers in Israel. The man, who has been stuck in Addis Ababa for a week, says that he was unaware of his destination until he arrived at Ben Gurion airport. There he was told by Population and Immigration Authority officials that the country he was being sent to was Ethiopia.

Upon his arrival in Addis Ababa he set out from the airport to the city, but was told by Ethiopian immigration officials that he was not allowed to leave the airport and that within hours he would be put on an flight to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. He refused to board the plane and has been stuck at the airport since then. As far as he knows, his luggage went on to Sudan.

Out of concern that he would be deported to Sudan, he contacted the community of asylum seekers in Israel immediately after meeting the Ethiopian officials. This community alerted the UN Refugee Agency and their representatives in Ethiopia were informed of the case, in order to prevent his expulsion to Sudan.

The man escaped from Sudan after armed militias attacked his village in Darfur, killing his grandparents. In Israel, he was imprisoned for two and a half months in Saharonim prison in the Negev. Following his release he lived and worked in Tel Aviv. He was recently ordered to show up at the Holot detention center. He then decided to leave for a third country, but insisted that he not be returned to Sudan, fearing that he would be killed there.

Dafna Lichtman, who runs the library in Lewinsky Park, a hub of asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv, met him by chance during a stopover in Addis Ababa.

“I can’t even begin to describe my feelings when, as I was browsing through the duty-free shop, I heard someone calling my name and I turned and saw him there,” she says. She immediately sensed that something was wrong. “He, like most other Darfuris I know, is a noble and gentle man, considerate and caring. I sat on the floor and burst into tears and he was there consoling me, telling me not to worry, that everything would be all right. ‘Don’t cry,’ he said, ‘with God’s help everything will turn out fine,’” Lichtman recalls. She then filmed him telling his story at the airport.

“I’m sure [his] story is not unique. There are hundreds of Darfuris who agree to go to a third country on the assumption that an Israeli government ministry would not deceive them and buy them a ticket to the only country they can’t go back to, Sudan”, Lichtman said. “I’ve heard many rumors about such things happening. People were told they were going to Uganda, but they found themselves on a plane to Sudan. Contact has been lost with many of those after they reached Sudan and their fates are unknown. Seeing it actually happening at Addis Ababa airport, how the state brazenly lies to these people, sending them to their deaths, was one of the worst experiences of my life. This is the country now celebrating its independence, but this is a crime that we are all accessories to.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said in response that "According to our the records of the authority (the man) signed a voluntary deportation to Sudan and not to another country." The authority added that now that the story has been brought to their attention, it will be checked and dealt with.

A month ago, an investigation by Haaretz revealed that over the last few months, Israel has been flying asylum seekers to Uganda and Rwanda. Israel is not revealing the nature of the agreements reached with these countries, but there are testimonies that their status is not settled there, that they are deprived of basic rights and that they lack any official documentation. The investigation reported another case similar to that of the man stuck in Addis Ababa. 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 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. After a while he did manage to leave the airport, and is now in Ethiopia without any legal status or rights.

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