The Population and Immigration Authority has begun informing asylum seekers at the Holot detention center that they will have to leave Israel for Rwanda, otherwise they will be incarcerated at Saharonim Prison indefinitely.
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Molugeta, a 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Eritrea, was one of the first to be interviewed and informed that he had to leave for Rwanda. The interview took 15 minutes and was videotaped in its entirety, Molugeta said. The interviewer, an Ethiopian Israeli, spoke to Molugeta in Tigrinya, Eritrea’s national language. “She told me, ‘they’re sending you to Rwanda. If you don’t go to Rwanda, they’ll put you in Saharonim,’” he said. “I told her that I can’t go to Saharonim and I can’t go to Rwanda. I came to ask for asylum. At first they accepted me. Why are you returning me now?’ She said, ‘That’s the law in Israel.’ Rwanda is not good now. My friends went there and everyone ran away to somewhere else. Everyone says the place is not good.”
Molugeta said he was asked to sign a document in Hebrew, which he doesn’t know how to read. She explained to him that it was a declaration that he was refusing to leave Israel, which he refused to sign.
Molugeta, who fled Eritrea to avoid forced, indefinite military service and came to Israel six years ago, applied for asylum and was denied six months ago. “I’m waiting. If they force me to go to Saharonim I’ll go. ... I’ll stay here in prison, what can I do?” He said his friends said they would also go to prison if they had no choice.
Testimony from asylum-seekers who have left for Rwanda and Uganda in recent years say that these countries do not provide basic rights and protection, and many move on from there. According to a report in Haaretz two months ago, some Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers who left Israel for Rwanda managed to reach Germany and the Netherlands. They said they were not given the option of staying in Rwanda. Some were jailed, subject to violence and extortion and were constantly threatened with deportation to their home countries.
On Friday, an authority representative interviewed a small number of asylum-seekers at Holot. She told them that they would have to inform the authority within one month whether they intended to leave the country and if not, they would face imprisonment at Saharonim for an unlimited time. The representative said they could be deported to Rwanda, but in the documents they received, the name of the country was not mentioned. So far, 20 Eritreans out of the 886 being held at Holot were interviewed.
The Eritreans interviewed received a two-page document in Hebrew with the title: “Information sheet for infiltrators leaving for a safe third country.” It informs the person that: “The State of Israel has made arrangements allowing you to leave Israel for a safe third country that will take you in and give you a residence permit that will allow you to work and ensure you will not be deported to your country of origin.” The document also states that the country to which they are being sent “has developed greatly over the past decade and has taken in thousands of returning residents from various African countries. This country has a stable government that contributes to development in many areas, among them education, medicine and infrastructure.”
The document assures the Eritreans that Israel will arrange all of their travel documents and pay for their flight and that officials will assist them until their departure. It also states that they will be given $3,500 at Ben-Gurion International Airport when they leave. “When you arrive at the third country, a local team will be waiting for you at the airport. They will drive you to a hotel that has been prearranged where you will have a meeting to direct you and acquaint you with local officials.”
Within a few days of arrival, according to the document the Eritreans received, the deportees will be able to apply for temporary residence and “within a few days of receiving the application, you will receive a temporary residence document and you can work in the third country.”
The authority will work to make contact with the new arrivals in the third country shortly after they leave Israel, the document states, providing a land line phone number to call “during work hours,” which are not stated. When they leave Israel, the document says, they will also be given the phone number of a representative of the third country to which they are traveling.
The document then states: “As noted, you must leave Israel. If you do not agree to leave voluntarily to a third country, enforcement and deportation steps will be taken against you. In the case of deportation, the monetary grant you have been offered will decline significantly.”
The document concludes with the words: “Best of luck.”
According to the document outlining the deportation procedure published last week by the authority: “The infiltrator will receive full information about the destination country and will receive a page informing him of departure and arrival procedures [in the third country]. If he refuses to go, his statement will be recorded in full.”
If he agrees to go, the document continues, a flight will be arranged as soon as possible. If he refuses, he will have a hearing at which time he can state his objections.” The Population and Immigration Authority official who presides at the hearing can order the asylum-seeker incarcerated if he decided that there is “no substance” to his claims.
The authority published a document last Tuesday stating that anyone who did not submit a request for asylum by the end of 2017, or whose application was rejected, can be deported.
Asylum-seekers from Eritrea are planning a protest against the deportation on Monday in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya.
In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to a letter by 470 academics against the deportation of asylum-seekers, calling them “leftist intellectuals.” Netanyahu said: “We are not acting against refugees, we are acting against illegal immigrants who come here to work. Israel will continue to serve as a shelter for real refugees and will remove illegal infiltrators.” He added that the personal safety of those leaving was assured.
There are currently about 35,000 Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers in Israel, and another 5,000 children of asylum-seekers. Most of them have temporary residence permits, which they must renew every two months.