AS Israel has come under fierce criticism from rights groups over ‘unlawful coercion’ of Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants into returning to their home countries, Eritrean envoy to Tel Aviv, Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekest acknowledges that despite the lack of direct flights from Israel, dozens of immigrants have started to voluntarily return to Eritrea every week.
Israel regards the immigrants less as asylum seekers than economic opportunists and routinely refers them as ‘infiltrators’.
It was indicted in the report that so far 367 Eritreans have returned back home in similar circumstances and alleges that they are at risk of persecution.
Ambassador Tesfamariam, however, in an interview he conducted on the matter with the Voice of America (VOA), categorically reject the accusation as meaningless.
The ambassador claimed the number of those who returned to Eritrea on their free will are well over a thousand and none of them have been subjected to any kind of persecution or intimidation as they are leading their normal life free from any kind of national obligations.
The ambassador recalls the first voluntary returnees from Israel that he personally welcomes them in Asmara. He instead lashes out at the right groups for not daring to follow up and report on the condition of those who have returned as that will strip their blanket “persecution’ claim bare.
The ambassador underlines that Eritrea welcomes its citizens only if they are coming on their own free will. Currently, 20 – 25 immigrants are returning from Israel every week.
Israel normally gave illegal immigrants in the country a choice between leaving Israel and facing ‘indefinite detention‘ in a remote Negev desert facility where no work is performed.
Gerry Simpson, the author of the report indicates ‘Israeli officials say they want to make the lives of ‘infiltrators’ so miserable that they leave Israel, and then claim people are returning home of their own free will.’
In response to the HRW report, a spokeswoman for Israel’s population and migration authority defended its policy as ‘proportionate’.
‘Israel acts legally and in an appropriate and proportional manner in order to deal with the phenomenon of illegal infiltrators. The growth in number of those leaving Israel of their own will is three times higher in 2014 than in 2013. This proves the policy is effective,’ the statement said.
Ambassador Tesfamariam also indicate that some immigrants who already make money and those whose five year residence permit about to expire routinely visit his office to arrange their voluntary return to Eritrea. These returnees along with those who got incentive money from the Israeli government for their voluntary return have already engaged in business in the country as well as in neighboring Kampala and juba.
Before winding up, Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste called up on all Eritrean citizens who wanted to return from Israel, whether they completed their national service obligations or not, his office is ready to facilitate their safe return to Eritrea.
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Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste’s interview with VOA on Eritrean returnees from Israel detention facility
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