One of Israel’s leading African refugee activists Alsadik Sadik recently deported from Israel, has been stranded in Addis Ababa airport for eight days fighting forced deportation to Sudan. Tonight, amidst mounting international pressure and seemingly against the wishes of Israel, he was forced back onto a direct flight to Tel Aviv and thus, back to the indefinite detention he was trying to escape.
The story of Alsadik’s botched deportation is just the most recent tragedy in the continuing struggle of African refugees fighting for freedom and justice in Israel. In recent months Alsadik along with thousands of other African refugees living in Israel have found themselves trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. Having lived in Israel for several years the 55,000 strong African refugee community is now being denied the renewal of residency permits and the right to asylum. As a result, thousands are now being sent to Israel’s Holot detention facility for African refugees in the Negev desert.
While Holot is described by Israeli media and the state as an “open facility”, it is anything but open. It is placed in a military firing zone deep in the desert, isolated from civilization, fenced-in, and operated by the Israeli prison services. Refugees living in the facility are required to report for roll-call three times a day and failure to do so results in them being sent to the nearby closed prison facility, Sahronim. There are currently about 2,500 African refugees detained in Holot detention centre with the number expected to rise to 3,300 (capacity). Conditions and facilities are both extremely basic. There is no hot water and rooms are poorly insulated leaving those living there largely at the mercy of harsh weather conditions.
Unable to renew their visas and faced with indefinite dentation in Holot many refugees like Alsadik are now choosing to take their chances by accepting voluntary deportation to third party countries in Africa. In exchange for this “voluntary” deportation refugees are given a sum of $3,500 and a guarantee that they will be granted asylum in a third country, usually Uganda, Rwanda or Ethiopia. Recent reports however, have cast serious doubt over the sincerity of these deportation agreements. Media and human rights organisations have reported that those accepting voluntary departure are in fact being sent back to their own countries,endangering their lives.
The case of Alsadik seems to provide proof of these reports, demonstrating that Israel has been complicit in the forced deportation of African refugees back to their counties of origin. Not only is such an action a breach of Israel’s international obligations as outlined in the 1951 refugee convention but it is also a grave violation of human rights law.
For refugees like Alsadik the prospect of being sent back home is an incomprehensible horror. Alsadik fled to Israel in search of asylum following genocide in Sudan and additional persecution after having witnessed the murder of his grandparent by a local militia. His very act of entering Israel is seen as an act of state treason in his homeland of Sudan. Asking for nothing more than a place to live in freedom and peace, Alsadik, like most African refugees sought to positively contribute to Israeli society but was regularly met with racism and distain. While in Israel Alsadik became an outspoken member of the refugee community and an advocate of their rights. Taking part in and leading several protests and community initiatives, he emerged as one of the most organized and outspoken activists of Tel Aviv’s Sudanese population. After months of campaigning and still unable to renew his visa he eventually opted for voluntary deportation to a third county, Ethiopia. Upon arrival in Ethiopia he was informed by immigration officials that he was not allowed to leave the airport and that he would in fact be sent back to Sudan within a few hours. In a final attempt to avoid being sent back to Sudan he refused to board the plane, remaining in the airport.
The Terminal (2004)
He has spent the last eight days in Addis Ababa airport, without any legal status or options. Tonight, amidst mounting international pressure and protests outside the UNHCR office in Tel Aviv, Alsadik was forced onto a plane and sent back to Israel against his will. On arrival in Tel Aviv he was reportedly detained and now faces being sent to Holot detention center.
What has happened to Alsadik over the last eight days represents Israel’s total lack of respect for his life and safety. Fleeing genocide and persecution in his home, he asked for nothing from Israel then the right to live in freedom.Instead he is faced with indefinite detention in Holot, similar to the brutality and persecution he has been subject to in Sudan. Being forced to leave Israel placed him in very real and direct danger. Had he been forced to return to Sudan he would most likely have faced accusations of being an Israeli spy or collaborator, resulting in imprisonment, torture and perhaps worse.
The appalling treatment of African refugees in Israel has continued for far too long. Around the world Eritrean and Sudanese refugees (the main groups in Israel) have among the highest rates of refugee status recognition. Yet to date only two Eritreans and not one single Sudanese national out of a total of 55,000 have been granted refugee status in Israel. This grave injustice must end now.