“We landed in Rwanda, got off the plane … someone who worked at the airport took our documents and we asked them ‘why?’" recalled Isayas*. "They answered that they would give us something else, but they never give us any other documents.”
“After you leave Israel no-one knows who you are … they put us in a jail that they called a hotel, a guard watched us so that we wouldn’t leave. But the State of Israel said that you could receive documents and receive asylum and that there would be a good life -- like a dream.”
Another interviewee claimed that a local official told him that the Israeli immigration authority paid them if they confiscated the asylum seekers’ temporary documents and returned them to Israel.
Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to a request for comment on this claim or the research report generally.
Birger, one of the co-authors, told i24NEWS the accounts of the interviewees’ fleeting time in Rwanda reveal a pattern.
“[An official] takes them to a hotel and says you can stay here for two nights, three nights. The travel document they get from Israel is taken from them. Some of them even get robbed or the money is getting taken away from them,” she said.
“What they said in Israel is that they have [in Rwanda] the UN and that you can claim asylum there. But there’s not,” another interviewee who was later granted asylum in The Netherlands said.
After a few days they were forced into Uganda, usually by car but sometimes, like Tesfay, on foot.
Gabriel, who has been granted asylum in Germany, said that while crossing from Uganda they were chanced upon by a posse of Ugandan soldiers, who took the entire $3,500 given to him by Israel as well as $1,200 in personal savings.
Sea rescues paradoxically encourage migration and benefit smugglers who load up rickety boats and abandon them once in international waters. ARIS MESSINIS (AFP/File)
After deciding to join the flow of migrants into Libya and onto Europe by boat, the route went through Sudan, where many reported near-constant solicitation of bribes and death threats. Several asylum seekers told the researchers that the police of their home country, Eritrea, were active in South Sudan and Sudan, and authorities in those countries frequently handed over compatriots to the regime from which they say they had fled in the first place.
In refugee parlance this is known as “refoulment” and avoiding it is a principle which drives Israel’s policy of sending migrants to third countries, because deporting them back to Eritrea would violate international law.
An unknown number also perished at sea in the surge of teeming boats that attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe each summer. According to Tesfay, whose full testimony was shared withi24NEWS: “Ten people from Israel went into the boat, only three left … I don’t know their names.”
Earlier in January a spokesman for the UNHCR in Italy said they had interviewed 83 people who shared the same stories as those told in the Israeli report, including many who reported “that people travelling with them had died en route to Libya.”
In light of the accounts it has gathered, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said that the UN body “is seriously concerned over Israel’s plans.”
A spokeswoman for the organization in Rwanda told i24NEWS that “due to the lack of clarity concerning its implementation, it has been very difficult for UNHCR to follow up and systematically monitor the situation of people relocated to these African countries and ensure that their human rights … are respected.”
*the names used in the report are pseudonyms