Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
P.O. Box 187, 91919 Jerusalem
Genève, May 19, 2015
Dear Prime Minister,
The authors of this appeal letter, who have gathered here in Genève, Switzerland to express serious concerns about the dilemma faced by Eritrean refugees in Israel, are Eritreans representing the various Eritrean communities in Europe. We have gathered here to protest because your government has announced that it has a definite plan to repatriate, against their will, the thousands of Eritreans who have requested political asylum in Israel. To our dismay, we have learned that the Israeli authorities are already rounding-up many Eritrean asylum seekers and detaining them in the harsh Negev desert as if they were ordinary criminals. The Eritreans at present in Israel, however, are neither criminals nor commodities for sale; they are refugees with a legitimate political cause and they deserve refugee status and protection in Israel.
As your government is well aware, article 1 of the Geneva Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, has defined a refugee as: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted 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.”
Thus, in our view, due to the fact that the Eritrean young are routinely being subjected to brutal oppression, wholesale and arbitrary detention, torture, severe restrictions and curtailment on their freedom of expression and association, they (all the Eritrean refugee population at present in Israel) fully meet the above criteria and the definition of a political refugee, as provided by the Geneva Convention. We therefore believe and uphold that all the Eritrean refugees at present in Israel deserve the status of political refugees and receive the protection of the international community.
We are therefore very much saddened to observe that, while fully cognizant that the Eritrean youth are fleeing their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, aggression of their country by neighbouring regional power, internal oppression and massive violation of human rights, forced labour and indefinite military service in Eritrea under PFDJ rule, the Israeli government is taking harsh and unlawful measures against Eritrean refugees.
We see the illegal and unwarranted detention of Eritrean asylum seekers by the Israeli government in the open desert detention centres, such as the Saharonim, Ktziot and Holot prisons, for their eventual repatriation, not only unconstitutional according to the Israeli constitution, but also in clear and crude violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as other recognized international standards, norms and human rights law pertaining to asylum-seekers.
The illegal detention of Eritrean and other African refugees is being justified by the Israeli government on the pretext of the refugees’ illegal entry to Israel through the Egyptian Sinai desert. Yet article 31 of the July 28, 1951 Convention and the amended 1967 protocol clearly states that: “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Thus, as far as we are concerned, the State of Israel is fully cognizant of the fact that international law forbids the detention, deportation or forced repatriation of refugees to a place where they face torture and a real danger for their very lives. Nevertheless, the Israeli government is still taking measures which violate international law and norms pertaining to political refugees, and much to our regret there are no visible opposition or protest by the international community to the illegal measures the Israeli government is taking against the Eritrean refugees.
For us it is really a paradox, and we are at total loss to comprehend the illegal and cruel action being taken against Eritrean refugees by your government – a government which represents a people who have experienced expulsions, deportations and pogroms: yes, a people that have been enormously oppressed and suffered so much throughout their known history in the hands of anti-Semitic governments; particularly so in the hands of the barbaric Nazi rulers of Germany. For common sense seems to suggest that the representatives of a people with such an unhappy past and the people of Israeli would show some kind of understanding, leniency and solidarity with the plight of the Eritrean refugees. Unfortunately, this is not what we are observing regarding the Eritrean refugees in Israel today. Frankly, we believe and maintain that your cruel policy towards Eritrean refugees is influenced and shaped by your government’s desire to maintain racial purity in Israel rather than from a non-existing security threats to the State of Israel.
We therefore call on your government to reconsider your contentious policy to imprison and repatriate the thousands of Eritrean refugees against their will and to accommodate them in Israel by providing them refugee status until the political situation returns to normality in Eritrea. We also call on the people of Israeli to put pressure on their government to treat the Eritrean refuges humanely and respectfully. Likewise, we also call on the international community to shoulder their responsibility and put pressure on the government of Israel to respect all existing Conventions pertaining to refugees, international laws and norms and the right of African refugees in general and that of Eritrean refugees in particular.
We also call on the international community to find alternative countries for resettlement for the thousands of Eritrean refugees, should the Israeli government adamantly refuse to reconsider its policy of illegal repatriation of Eritrean refugees against their will to some African countries under the grip of anti-democratic regimes.
Long Live International Solidarity!!
Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis
Spokesperson and Coordinator of the Genève Demonstration