His Excellency Mr. Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Gutierrez
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
May 19th, 2015
Subject: Open Letter of Appeal to UNHCR on behalf of the Eritrean Refugees in Israel
We, the more than 300 representatives of the various Eritrean communities in Europe, who organised today’s protest demonstration in Geneva, would hereby like to submit our appeals to your Excellency with the hope that you will use your good office to stop the planned inhuman and forceful deportation of Eritrean refugees against their will from Israel to Uganda and Ruanda.
Since the outbreak of the 1998-2000 ferocious Eritrea/Ethiopia war and the cold war which followed between the two countries, young Eritreans in their thousands have been fleeing from Eritrea to different countries using various means and ways in order to avoid being forcefully drafted into a compulsory open-ended oppressive military service, including being forced into quasi-slavery forced labour on farms and factories. Some of those Eritrean refugees undertook a very perilous journey through the unforgiving Libyan and Sinai deserts, somehow reaching Israel after many terrifying ordeals. So many of their colleagues, brothers or sisters perished on the way from thirst and hunger, while others died at the hands of human traffickers and human organ hunters and traders.
The Eritrean refugees undertook the most hazardous route to reach the borders of Israel in the hope that a people which has suffered so much throughout history at the hands of anti-Semitic governments and in the most extreme way at the hands of the Nazi rulers of Germany would welcome Eritreans as refugees. Thus, those Eritreans who managed to reach Israel were conscious that, as the Israeli government is a signatory to the Geneva Convention on refugees, they could apply officially for refugee status to remain in Israel until the political situation returns to normality in Eritrea.
Unfortunately, and much to our dismay, we have recently learned that the Israeli government has a definite plan to deport thousands of Eritrean refugee applicants to some African countries that are willing to receive them in exchange for Israeli money and arms. It is important to mention here that Eritreans and the democrats of other countries clearly understand that the action and measures being undertaken by the Israeli government against Eritrean refugees is diametrically opposed to the Geneva Convention’s status and rights-based instrument, which is underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non-discrimination, non-penalisation and non-refoulement.
The illegal measures, which the Israeli government has announced to undertake against the thousands of Eritrean refugees living in Israel, have angered the thousands of Eritreans living in the western world and elsewhere. Consequently, as members of the worldwide Eritrean community, we, the representatives of the Eritrean community in Europe, have organised a peaceful protest demonstration in Geneva today to express our anger and dismay regarding the illegal deportation of Eritrean refugees by the Israeli government. We wish to convey to the Israeli government that Eritrean refugees are not commodities for sale to some corrupt and dictatorial governments in Africa where human rights and human dignity are grossly and crudely violated. In other words, the express purpose of our protest and the appeal letter we are handing to both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Geneva, and the Israeli Embassy in Switzerland, is to show active solidarity to our distressed fellow Eritreans in Israel. We wish to alert and inform the UNHCR in Geneva and other Human Rights organisations and governments to the plight and the imminent danger the thousands of Eritrean refugees are facing in Israel today.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established in December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly with a full mandate to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve their problems worldwide. In other words, as far as we are concerned, the primary purpose of the UNHR is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, and to strive to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.
Indeed, as the key legal document, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees has clearly defined refugees and their rights and the legal obligations of the states hosting refugees. A refugee, according to the Convention, is defined as someone owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Similarly, under the title ‘prohibition of expulsion or return (“refoulement”)’, article 33 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, has also stated clearly that ‘No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.
Thus, in line with the purpose, we have gathered here in Geneva in front of the Israeli Embassy to peacefully demonstrate and protest against the illegal measures, which the Israeli government is about to take against the thousands of Eritrean asylum applicants in Israel. We demand that the Israeli government immediately stops its threats to deport Eritrean refugees illegally from Israel. We also call on the United Nations and its representatives in Geneva to immediately intervene on behalf of the thousands of Eritrean refugee applicants living under fear and the looming danger of being deported against their will to some African countries run by oppressive and non-democratic regimes. In consultation with the Israeli government, we wish to find alternative host countries in Europe or elsewhere that are willing to receive our fellow country men and women on humanitarian grounds.
We thank you very much in advance for your understanding and for the urgent action that you will take to save the thousands of Eritrean refugees from being deported illegally to countries where they will not feel safe.
Long Live International Solidarity!!
Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis
Spokesperson and Coordinator of the Geneva Demonstration