Return from the Promised Land

There are some 36,000 Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel who wants to force them to go home. To a dictatorship.

A crowd of African refugees in Israel. Photo: Wiki Commons.

It is old news that Israel’s intents to deport African asylum seekers back to unnamed African countries in exchange for “benefit packages”–basically weapons. Now comes the news that Israel repatriated fourteen Eritrean asylum seekers back to their country. This has been confirmed in the last few days by detainees at Saharonim prison–near the border with Egypt–who have contacted the Israeli Hotline for Migrant Workers. The 14 Eritreans, who spent the last year in the prison, will be returned to Asmara. According to detainees, the Eritrean Ambassador in Israel was supposed to escort them on their return.

The Israeli authorities haven’t confirmed the information yet. However, there have been reports in the last few days that the Israeli Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration has been getting imprisoned Eritrean asylum seekers in Saharonim to sign “willful emigration” documents that allow deporting them from Israel. This process also goes against the United Nations’ stance on the matter and follows the Attorney General of Israel’s decision to approve the procedure three weeks ago.

According to the Hotline for Migrant Workers, detainees are repeatedly told by Ministry of Interior representatives at the internment camps are their only way out it to go back to Eritrea, and that otherwise they will spend years in prison.

Starting from June 23, about 350 of Saharonim detainees went on hunger strike to protest their detention. The Israeli Prison Authorities made extensive efforts to end the mass hunger strike and succeeded on their mission on June 30.

In a letter by one of the hunger strikers that was published in Hebrew last week, one of the prisoners described their encounter with immigration authority officers during the hunger strike: “We were prosecuted and victimized in our country and we didn’t have democracy. We were not able to live in peace. Many among us were tortured and raped in Sinai. When we reached this democratic state of Israel, we didn’t expect such harsh punishment in prison and we still don’t know which crime it is that makes us suffer for such a long time in this prison. We lost all hope and became frustrated by this situation so that we ask you to either provide us with a solution or send us to our country, no matter what will happen to us, even if we have to endure death penalty by the Eritrean regime.”

At the end of the hunger strike, more Eritreans decided to leave the Israeli prison. According to the hotline, about 200 Eritreans have already signed an agreement to go back to Eritrea, but the detainees have been told that the Eritrean Embassy is able to arrange passports to only to 15 people a day and therefore the process will be gradual.

There are some 36,000 Eritrean asylum seekers (out of a total of 50,000 African asylum seekers) in Israel. Hundreds of them have been held in Israeli prison facilities since last year under the Anti-Infiltration Law, which allows imprisoning of asylum seekers for three years without trial.

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.