The following is a redacted version of an affidavit that was attached to a petition filed by Israeli human rights NGOs and the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights’ Clinic against the recently announced policy of indefinitely incarcerating Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who refuse to leave Israel for Rwanda or Uganda.
Under a new policy announced on March 31, 2015, asylum-seekers detained in Holot will be offered to leave Israel for an unnamed third country. If they refuse to do so, after 30 days, they would be incarcerated in Saharonim prison. Dozens of Eritrean asylum-seekers in Holot have since undergone interviews in which they were offered to leave, and are facing imminent transfer to Saharonim.
Based on testimonies of asylum-seekers who left Israel to those unnamed “third countries,” Israeli human rights NGOs know that they are Uganda and Rwanda. The petition was filed to the Beer Sheva District Court and was dismissed by Judge Bitan, who ruled the petition was premature because the transfer of detainees from Holot to Saharonim prison has not yet begun.
The following is an affidavit by “Robel,” an Eritrean national who agreed to voluntary deportation from Israel. (His name has been changed for his protection.)
I arrived in Israel in 2008. I asked for asylum every time I spoke to an Israeli official but I did not receive any reply to my asylum claim at any point.
I decided to leave Israel after I was detained in Holot for a year and stopped believing that I will ever be released in Israel. During the year I spent in Holot we conducted demonstrations. During the arrest that followed our march to Nizana, near the Egyptian border on June 29, 2014, I was badly beaten by Israeli Immigration officers. They forgot to take our cameras when they arrested us and I managed to transfer photos of my wounds to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. Despite the fact that the Hotline submitted a complaint against the immigration officers on my behalf, I was never questioned about the incident. Because of all these reasons, I felt that Israel cannot provide me and my friends a safe refuge and I decided to leave Israel no matter where to and look for refuge elsewhere.
After I told the Immigration Authority I wanted to leave, they told me that I will be leaving to Rwanda and from there would have to go to Uganda, because Uganda was not accepting Eritrean asylum-seekers directly at the time.
My flight was at the beginning of March 2015. There were three Eritreans who were sent with me on the same flight. At Ben-Gurion Airport we were given Israeli traveling documents valid for three months, visa confirmation paper for Rwanda, $3,500 in cash, and our flight tickets.
When we arrived in Kigali airport, the security personnel at the airport confiscated our Israeli travel documents. The official asked us to wait and called someone with a car to take us to a house where we could rest. We stayed for two days in that house, which was guarded. I asked the guard to let me leave, but the guard did not allow me, saying that it is dangerous to walk around without any documents. After two days, we were transferred to another house where we met six more Eritreans who arrived from Israel on the same day on a transit flight from Ethiopia.
We stayed in the second house for several hours when a man who introduced himself as Yohannes came and said that we must go to Uganda now. He asked for $150 from each one of us and told us that when we reach Kampala, we need to pay additional $100 to the guy who will bring us there.
The driver took us to a small van which was too small for us, 10 Eritreans and himself. After a seven-hour drive, we reached close to the border with Uganda. The driver turned off the lights and drove for around five minutes and then we were told to get out of the car and walk. Just before crossing the border, someone appeared from the other side and crossed the border with us. We headed to Kampala and after two to three hours of driving, our car was stopped by someone. He communicated with the driver in Luganda (a local language). We were told that we needed to pay more money or we would be arrested.
They ordered us to get out of the car one by one and checked if we had money. They took more than $10,000 from us and then they called the police. I immediately reported to the police that the people who called them took our money. The police registered them and said “no problem. I will do my best.” We did not receive back our money. We were transferred to the police station in Kampala.
At the police station, we surrendered everything we had: the rest of our money, our bags and cellphones before they locked us up at a police station in Kampala. We were locked up and stayed there for six days. The officer said that on Thursday they will take us to the immigration office (or court) and then we will be released. But before that, he said, “you should pay $1,000 to me.” I said “OK” and asked him why we are being taken to the immigration office. He said that it is because the office already knows about us. I was sure that they intended to deport us to Eritrea. I was very afraid but it was evening and we were not able to call anyone.
I finally I got permission to call my friends and they contacted an Eritrean who lives in Kampala. He came to the jail at 11:30 p.m. and talked to the police. He explained to me that if we were transferred to immigration, they would deport us to Eritrea. Thanks to him, we were demanded only $800 each from the 10 of us.
He said that the immigration officer demanded $6,000 while the police officer demanded $2,000, and they both promised that after the payment we will be released within six hours. We paid the money and were all released.
I ran away from Uganda since I realized that my staying there is illegal and that I might be deported to Eritrea if I remained there.
Today I am in Kenya, I had to enter illegally. I applied for refugee status with the Ministry of Immigration and Registration, Department of Refugee Affairs in Kenya and received an asylum seeker document. This document does not allow me to work and my interview is scheduled for May 2016.
I am very angry and frustrated that I was sent from Israel in this manner. I can’t believe that they actually told me that I could stay in Rwanda or Uganda and that everything was arranged. I am very sorry that I made the mistake and believed them.