2018-01Berichte und sonstige Texte DOI: 10.18452/20087
"Better a Prison in Israel than Dying on the Way"
Testimonies of Refugees who "'Voluntarily'' Departed Israel to Rwanda and Uganda and Gained Protection in Europe
This report is based on interviews conducted with Eritrean refugees who left Israel under the “Voluntary Departure” program to Rwanda and Uganda. There – in contrast to the promises made to them by the State of Israel – they were not granted protection, forcing them to embark on a dangerous journey ending in Europe. This report focuses on the “Voluntary Departure” policy and how it affected the lives of those who left Israel under it. This policy has been implemented since late 2013 vis-à-vis Eritrean and Sudanese residing in Israel. In January 2018, shortly before the publication of this report, the State of Israel announced an escalation of the measures it implements against this population; one such measure is a plan to forcibly deport asylum-seekers to a third country, i.e., not their homeland. The report is based on a qualitative research made up of 19 interviews with Eritrean refugees who left Israel between 2014-2016. 11 interviews were conducted in Germany and eight in the Netherlands, the countries of residence of the interviewees, in which the overwhelming majority received refugee status. An analysis of their responses shows a similar pattern: promises made by the Israeli government, both in court and to those departing, about what awaits them after their arrival to Rwanda and Uganda, went unfulfilled. Instead of being granted access to a process of applying for asylum or work permits, the deportees, upon landing, were placed in a precarious situation: the travel document they received in Israel, the only identifying document in their possession, was taken away from them. They were transferred to a hotel guarded by an armed sentry and prevented, under threat, from leaving the hotel. None of them were given the opportunity to apply for asylum.Lacking identifying documentation, exposed to robberies, threats and arrest, they were forced to embark on a dangerous journey that included passing through South Sudan, Sudan and Libya in search of safety. Throughout the journey, the refugees were subjected to human trafficking, incarceration, the threat of forcible deportation to Eritrea, harsh conditions of starvation, violence, slavery in torture camps in Libya and a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. The interviewees described a perilous journey permeated with an all-encompassing fear of death: many witnessed the death of fellow travelers during the crossing of the Sahara Desert, in the torture camps in Libya and as they drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Among the dead were others who had who left Israel “voluntarily.” This conclusion is in congruence with findings of previous reports published by Israeli and international NGOs that collected testimonies in African countries of those who “voluntarily” departed Israel. These testimonies were recently buttressed by a statement of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) about dozens of similar testimonies the agency collected in Italy. Taken together, several hundreds of testimonies have been collected. Thus, the report confirms that the alarming patterns documented by previous reports have not changed. In addition, this report, for the first time, details additional stages in the journey of those who departed. Little information was available about these legs of the journey – and especially about what the interviewees experienced in Libya and during their crossing of the Mediterranean Sea– until their arrival in Europe
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