Eritrea asks Israel to deport "deserters"
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz | March 25, 2008
The vast majority - about 2,800 - of the Africans who
have entered Israel illegally from Egypt via Sinai are from Eritrea.
Israel and Eritrea have full diplomatic relations, with embassies in
Asmara and in Tel Aviv, but there is no active dialogue on the refugee
issue. A few weeks ago, Eritrea's ambassador to Israel even registered
an official protest with the Foreign Ministry, in which he complained
about Israel's failure to repatriate the Eritreans. "These are not
political refugees, but rather work migrants or army deserters," the
The Eritrean ambassador, Tesfamariam Tekeste, noted
yesterday in an interview with Haaretz that his letter of protest
included several issues of concern to his government. First, he said,
at least half of the infiltrators represent themselves as Eritrean
while in fact they are from other African states, such as Sudan or
Ethiopia. "They know the Eritreans automatically receive a six-month
visa, so they pretend to be Eritrean," he said.
The letter also mentioned the fear that hostile
elements helping to smuggle Africans into Israel could exploit them for
carrying out terror attacks. "If that happens, the accusing finger will
point to Eritrea," Tekeste said.
"Israel is turning itself
into a migration destination for Eritrean citizens fleeing from army
service or looking for work," Tekeste said. "The fact that you issue
six-month visas encourages people to come here."
Tekeste's letter also protested the lack of discussion between the two countries on the infiltration.
"No one has talked to us about it and I haven't received any response to my letter of protest," he said yesterday.
ambassador is infuriated by claims that repatriated Eritreans face
execution. "It's an unfounded accusation," Tekeste said. "Many of those
who come to Israel leave Eritrea legally and won't be hurt if they
return. Army deserters will be treated in accordance with the law and
He also expressed anger about Eritrea's characterization by Israeli officials as a dictatorship.
Minister Ehud Olmert faces a dilemma with regard to Eritrea. He wants
to find a human solution to the refugee crisis, but also wants to take
decisive action to prevent the flow of refugees into Israel. He knows
that a fence along the border with Egypt would stop the infiltration,
but the NIS 700 million price tag is daunting.
Tekeste is not
the only one who is worried about the lack of dialogue on the refugee
issue. In a discussion on the issue on Sunday, Olmert asked Foreign
Minister deputy director general for Africa Jacques Revah what was
being done vis-a-vis Eritrea or other African states, and received only
a vague response.
Olmert berated military and Foreign Ministry
officials, saying: "You turned Herzl's vision upside down. Instead of
bringing us to Uganda, you brought Uganda to Israel."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "The actions of the Foreign Ministry are perfunctory."
Foreign Ministry was directed months ago to come to an agreement with
the African countries and the international community to find places
for the infiltrators. One month ago, the request was repeated, but no
progress has been made. A senior Foreign Ministry official noted that
talks with the U.S., Canada and Kenya on the subject have been
fruitless, and that no state is willing to absorb the infiltrators. The
Foreign Ministry is considering transfering a large percentage of them
to Burkina Faso.
A few weeks ago, Interior Minister Meir
Sheetrit cited Eritrea's "oppressive regime" as the reason for Israel's
issuing of work visas to infiltrators. The Israeli embassy in Asmara
recently sent a report to Jerusalem indicating that Eritreans who were
returned to their homeland "will be placed in rows and shot or thrown
into torture chambers."
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