JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel attempted to deport 25 Eritrean asylum seekers in violation of international conventions, according to an Israeli NGO supporting the rights of migrants.
A group of some 25 Eritrean refugees were pressured by Israeli immigration officials to sign a declaration saying they would agree to be deported to Uganda and then discovered that they were scheduled to fly to Eritrea, the Hotline for Migrant Workers charged. The Eritreans refused to get on the plane.
A spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority, Sabine Haddad, told JTA that she did not know about a group of Eritreans facing possible return, but did say that hundreds of north Sudanese have agreed to be repatriated in recent months, as well as a small number of Eritreans. Haddad added that her office is checking this particular incident, and said that in no case does Israel deport migrants against their will.
The Hotline for Migrant Workers told Haaretz that the asylum seekers were told they either can be repatriated to Eritrea or remain in prison in Israel for at least three years.
As a signatory of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel cannot deport asylum seekers. Israel grants Eritreans protection, but does not recognize them as refugees.
Eritreans make up more than 60 percent of the more than 60,000 illegal African migrants are who are believed to be in Israel, according to Haaretz.
Asylum seekers who return to Eritrea are in danger of persecution or even death at the hands of the Eritrean regime, rights groups say.