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UN representative visits African refugees on Egypt-Israeli border

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Around 1,000 African migrant detainees, most of whom are Eritreans, had left the Holothuroidea Detention Facility in Israel on Friday, making their way on foot towards the Egyptian border to protest their detention in Israel and to ask for United Nations help.

African Asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally in the past years are seen covered with blankets after they spend the night in an outdoor camp near Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in the Negev Desert on June 28, 2014. Nearly 1,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel yesterday staged a march towards the southern border with Egypt to protest against living conditions in their internment camp, public radio reported. The Israeli population and immigration office said that in late 2013 there were 53,646 African immigrants in Israel, 35,987 of whom were Eritrean, 13,249 Sudanese and the remainder from other countries.    (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

African Asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally in the past years are seen covered with blankets after they spend the night in an outdoor camp near Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in the Negev Desert on June 28, 2014. 
(AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

 

A member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Israel visited African refugees currently living near the Egyptian borders with Israel on Sunday.

The refugees had previously listed their demands to UNHCR in Geneva, according to a press release by EveryOne Group, an international organisation operating in defence of human and civil rights.

They are also expecting a visit from an Israeli parliamentarian who supports their case, said the press release.

Around 1,000 African migrant detainees, most of whom are Eritreans, had left the Holothuroidea Detention Facility in Israel on Friday, making their way on foot towards the Egyptian border to protest their detention in Israel and to ask for United Nations help.

“This is not a detention facility, this is a prison,” said Habtom, an Eritrean refugee, who said the facility was fenced and in the middle of the desert, far away from the city. “We are suffering. We have nowhere to go.”

They are currently 300 miles away from the Israeli fence.

“They wanted to get closer, but Israeli police told them to keep that distance,” said John Stauffer, President of the America Team for Displaced Eritreans.

Habtom said he and the other refugees want to enter Africa through Egypt and return to their homelands, but Israel refuses their passage.

The refugees said that for nearly seven years they have not been given attention from international organisations, such as the United Nations or Red Cross. They added that they were supposed to be given 48 hours leave each month from Holot, which has yet to happen. Others said they had attorneys examining their cases, but they had not received feedback.

“Israel has limited the activity of the UNHCR”, said Stauffer.

Sivan Weizman, spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service which runs Holot, said that if the refugees do not return, police could arrest them and move them to closed detention facilities, reported the Jerusalem Post

African refugees have been protesting a law passed in December 2013 stipulating that those caught entering the country illegally could be jailed for up to a year. After this time, they would be moved to another facility for open detention.

Around 36,000 Eritrean citizens live in Israel, according to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority. Israel does not deport them, in compliance with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees directive not to endanger them. The state has, however, been putting significant pressure on them to leave voluntarily, in exchange for a $3,500 grant, according to Israel’s left-wing newspaper Haaretz.

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Aya Nader

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