Amnesty International: Israel, Uganda deceiving asylum seekers
Drawing on 30 interviews with asylum seekers who 'voluntarily' left Israel, rights group claims Eritrean and Sudanese refugees were given false information, abandoned once in Uganda by Israeli authorities and were often forced into giving their consent to leaving the country.
Amnesty International accused Israel of "cruel and illegal" transfers of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in a report released Monday.
In the absence of a clear plan for the deportation, the government uses "voluntary" departures to a "third country" to reduce the number of African refugees in Israel.
Amnesty International's report is based on interviews with 30 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who "voluntarily" left Israel for Uganda over the past year, which indicate the agreement they signed with the Israeli government was misleading and the promises and guarantees they received were empty.
According to the report, instead of receiving a residence permit upon their arrival in Uganda, the asylum seekers received an irregular migration status with no possibility of work and the risk of detention or forcible return to their country of origin.
While they were promised by Israel to receive 30-day visas to enter Uganda, some of the asylum seekers interviewed by Amnesty International received no such document. Instead, their papers were taken from them and they were left with no visa or other document to show legal entry to the country.
In addition, a letter issued by the Israeli government promises that "a local team will be waiting for you at the airport to accompany you in the first few days. The team will take you to a hotel arranged for you in advance, where you will have an orientation and introduction meeting with the local representatives, during which they will inform you of your options and help you in your first steps in the country."
Instead, according to the report, the asylum seekers received an "intimidation talk," as Ibrahim, a Sudanese asylum-seeker deported to Uganda in 2017, told Amnesty International.
"They told us that Uganda is dangerous because people know that we arrive here with money and they will try and steal from us. They told us that they wanted to help us because we didn’t have documents, and without an ID card we wouldn’t even be able to get a SIM card for our phone," Ibrahim recalled.
"They also told us that we would not be able to get (asylum) papers here because we came from Israel. They acted like they wanted to help us and told us not to worry."
Some asylum seekers reported that the "representatives" they met with offered to arrange to smuggle them out of Uganda upon payment, or otherwise promised documents that would allow them to stay in Uganda, but took the money and disappeared.
According to the report, representatives of the Israeli Administration Population, Immigration and Border Authority were in constant contact and were cooperating with the local "representatives" in Uganda who took money from the asylum seekers promising to smuggle them out of the country or provide them with visas, but disappeared without fulfilling any of the promises they made.
The Israeli government told the Supreme Court in April 2018 that it had a post-transfer monitoring mechanism in place to ensure the implementation of the agreement with Uganda, including follow-up conversations with the deportees via phone calls and emails during the first 30 days after their arrival, to verify that they had received papers, had a place to stay and all other matters were in order.
The government also reported that the Population, Immigration and Border Authority had contacted 95 percent of the deportees who left Israel in 2017, none of whom had reported "unusual events."
Despite that, only two of the asylum seekers interviewed for the report had been in contact with Israeli officials after arriving in Uganda and appeared to have received no help at all.
"A few hours after we arrived at the hotel, 'Michael,' an Eritrean man, came to the room. He said he worked with Israeli immigration and took our pictures with his phone to send them to Israel as proof that we had arrived. Then he called 'Shishai,' an immigration officer in Israel, from his phone and let me speak to him. ‘Shishai’ just wanted to make sure that we had reached Kampala. I never spoke to him again," said one refugee.
Another received a call from an Israeli immigration official. "I told him it’s very bad: I have no job and no papers," he said. He too received no help.
Moreover, the report claims that asylum seekers’ departure from Israel to Uganda were not voluntary, even in the instances in which they formally agreed to leave the country.
According to the report, an agreement by a migrant to leave the country was often forthcoming due to a combination of coercive or manipulative factors, among them a dysfunctional absorption apparatus, indefinite arrests or the threat thereof, violent declarations, discrimination by government officials, vague information, and the provision of false and misleading promises about the fate that awaits them after their departure.
Among other things, the report provides two pieces of testimony from inside Saharonim Prison where asylum seekers were held, which point to the prevalence of mental abuse which was deliberately employed to break the asylum seekers’ will until they “leave at will.”
Chen Baril Agari from Amnesty International Israel said that “the report highlights that under the dysfunctional asylum seeker apparatus, together with legislation that was intended to make the asylum seekers’ lives more difficult and false promises that were given to them—this is expulsion and not a willful departure.”
A spokesman for the organization, Gil Noah, also lamented Israel’s secret deals with other countries to absorb the refugees, even though those countries were significantly worse off economically.
“The report sheds light on the way in which secret agreements between states made it possible for Israel to turn its back on responsibility for the joint global refugee crisis,” Noah said.
“It is inconceivable that Israel should refuse to provide refuge to a tiny number of refugees in its territory and instead to pass the responsibility to a country that is dozens of times poorer than it is and which has already taken into its territory millions of refugees.”