Somali and Eritrean refugees wash at a reception centre at the port of Augusta, Sicily, in June 2015. They had been rescued at sea by the Spanish Coast Guard after setting out from Libya. © UNHCR/Fabio Bucciarelli
UNHCR is again appealing to Israel to halt its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa. This is after some 80 cases were identified in which people relocated by Israel risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys to Europe via Libya.
All 80 cases involved Eritrean refugees or asylum seekers who were interviewed by UNHCR staff in Rome. Feeling they had no other choice, they travelled many hundreds of kilometers through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya after being relocated by Israel. Along the way they suffered abuse, torture and extortion before risking their lives once again by crossing the Mediterranean to Italy.
The interviews – all with adult males, some with family members still in Israel – took place between November 2015 and December 2017 in reception centres and informal settlements in the Rome area. All had entered Israel via the Sinai. In every case they reported torture, mistreatment and extortion before reaching Israel.
Most said they had been transferred from Israel to a country in Africa and provided with a lump sum of US$3,500 dollars. However, the situation on arrival was different to what most had expected and with little further support provided beyond accommodation on the first night. They reported feeling unsafe, as they were known to have money.
Some said that people travelling with them had died en route to Libya, where many experienced extortion and detention, as well as being subjected to abuse – including torture – and violence.
Including in light of this, UNHCR is seriously concerned over Israel’s plans announced on January 1st to forcibly relocate Eritreans and Sudanese to countries in Africa or have them face indefinite detention. Official statements that the plans may eventually target families and those with pending asylum claims, or that asylum seekers might be taken to the airport in handcuffs, are particularly alarming. At a time when UNHCR and partners in the international community are engaged in emergency evacuations from Libya, forced relocation to countries that do not offer effective protection and the onward movement of these people to Libya and Europe is particularly worrisome.
There are some 27,000 Eritreans and 7,700 Sudanese in Israel. Since Israel took over refugee status determination from UNHCR in 2009, only ten Eritreans and one Sudanese have been recognized as refugees. Another 200 Sudanese, all from Darfur, were granted humanitarian status in Israel and there was an announcement that another 300 will follow. Israel has not received any Eritreans or Sudanese since May 2016.
UNHCR stands ready to work with Israel to find alternative solutions for the protection needs of asylum seekers, in line with international standards. This includes resettlement out of Israel, as has happened previously.
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