Hundreds of African refugees have held a protest rally in front of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to voice their anger at the Tel Aviv regime’s policy of mass detention and deportation against them.
Israeli media reported that some 1,000 protesters, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, gathered outside the legislature as well as the Supreme Court in Jerusalem al-Quds on Thursday.
Some were holding up banners reading, “Black lives matter,” and “Don’t force us to leave and look for refuge elsewhere.” Others were carrying pictures of the refugees, who had been deported.
More than 10,000 African asylum seekers, mainly Sudanese and Eritreans, have been held at the Holot detention facility in the Negev, with officials there allowed to keep them for a maximum of 12 months.
Tel Aviv has sought to strike deals with other African nations to take in some of the African refugees.
However, the organizers of the Thursday march say asylum seekers who have been deported to third-party African states face the risk of being repatriated back to their homeland.
In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court justices, the organizers of the march denounced the deportation policy as “coercive”, saying, “This policy is cruel, illegal and unacceptable. We should not be imprisoned or thrown to other countries in Africa that are not ours and don’t accept us.”
Less than one percent of the asylum seekers have had their pleas recognized by the Israeli authorities since the regime signed the UN Refugee Convention around six decades ago.
African asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea, hold up placards showing migrants whom they say were killed after being deported from Israel during a protest in Jerusalem al-Quds, January 26, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
During the march, Tekle Negash, a 21-year-old Eritrean refugee who came alone to Israel in 2012, said he has been kept in Holot for the past three months under “horrid” conditions.
“It’s very crowded, and there is only one shower and one toilet for us,” he said. “The food there is very bad, and in the summer it’s very hot, and in the winter it’s very cold. We can leave for 12 hours, but we are not allowed to work.”
Media reports in the past years have suggested that a number of African states have reached secret agreements with Tel Aviv, in which they accept unwanted refugees in return for arms, military training and other aid from Israel.
Last July, Benjamin Netanyahu went on a four-nation tour of sub-Saharan Africa, the first such visit by an Israeli prime minister to the continent in almost 30 years.
During the visit, Netanyahu reportedly discussed the eviction of thousands of migrants and refugees from Sudan and Eritrea who entered Israel through Egypt.
In 2015, The Washington Post reported that Israel had spent more than USD 350 million to build a fence along its entire border with Egypt to block the entry of Africans.
There are some 45,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. Ninety-two percent of those are from Eritrea and Sudan.
Documents cited in the Guardian on Monday showing that the UK governmentdownplayed the risk of human rights abuses in Eritreain an attempt to reduce asylum-seeker numbers are the latest indication of Britain’s determination to reduce African immigration. But this is a Europe-wide initiative, co-ordinated in Brussels.
WithFrench, German, Dutch and Italian elections later this year, there is intense pressure across the European Union to cut the flows of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean. European plans to deal with the question have been veiled in secrecy, since they involve close cooperation with some of Africa’s most notorious dictatorships.
The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed a warning from the European commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said during talks held in March last year. A member of staff working forFederica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, warned of the risk to Europe’s reputation.
Plans are being formulated under arrangements agreed between theEU and African leaders in Maltain November 2015. These called for close cooperation between European security services and those of African states. Among those around the table at Valletta were representatives of repressive regimes in Sudan (whose president,Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes) and Eritrea, which has been accused of crimes against humanity.
The Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
European civil servants are fully aware of just how dangerous these proposals are, and the document includes in a list of risks the possibility that resources and equipment could be diverted “for repressive aims”.
The Sudanese authorities have already begun what is technically termedrefoulementof Eritreans – the forcible return of asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution. In May last year hundreds were arrested in Khartoum and returned to Eritrea.
Eritrean human rights organisations suggest this process has continued.Refugeesin the Sudanese capital are fearful of leaving their homes, afraid they will be picked up by the authorities.
In Europe, these efforts are paying off: the number of people arriving from Africa is falling. The latest statistics fromFrontex– the EU-wide border agency – show that two routes have almost been sealed. There is next to no transit by sea from west Africa through the Canary Islands, and only a limited number of people arriving in Spain via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. A total of 2,162 Africans made it to Spain in the second quarter of 2016.
The second route, via the Sinai and Israel, has effectively ended. A hi-tech system of fences and detection devices, constructed by Israel in December 2013, sealed the border.
This leaves available to Africans just the central Mediterranean route through Libya and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. It was used by 51,450 people in the second quarter of 2016. But the EU is now attempting to cut this final route intoEurope. Earlier this month Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, was dispatched to Tripoli to broker an agreement with Fayez al-Sarraj, head of Libya’s UN-backed government of national accord, on fighting irregular migration through the country.
Minniti and Sarraj agreed to reinforce cooperation on security, the fight against terrorism and human trafficking. “There is a new impulse here — we are moving as pioneers,” Mario Giro, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, told the Financial Times. “But there is a lot of work to do, becauseLibyastill doesn’t yet have the capacity to manage the flows, and the country is still divided.”
Such initiatives are developing rapidly, with civil servants using aid and security co-operation to crack down on this African exodus. And while we can all recognise the domestic, political pressures that EU governments face, and which are leading them to seek to halt the flow of migrants across their borders, we must also recognise that those affected are some of the most vulnerable people from some of the most repressive countries in Africa. There must be a legal route for refugees to escape persecution.
A study of the North African country lays bare a ruler at war with his own people, says Joanna Lewis
January 26, 2017
· By Joanna Lewis
President Isaias Afewerki
Chairman of the State Council
Chairman of the Transitional National Assembly
C-in-c of the Armed Forces
Chancellor of Institutes of Higher Learning
Chairman of the PFDJ [the sole political party]
Vice-President – vacant since 2001
There have been no elections in Eritrea since 1993. Instead, as the above extract from Martin Plaut’s masterful account perfectly illustrates, this tiny state in North Africa is ruled by dictatorship. In 2015, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry concluded that Eritreans endure “systemic widespread and gross human rights violations” and “a total lack of the rule of law”.
“Eritrea was born a one party state”, as Plaut, an Institute of Commonwealth Studies scholar and former BBC World Service Africa editor, makes clear. After its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the rot set in. Like many African nationalist movements forced to engage in military struggle to gain power, making the adjustment to civilian rule and accepting even a murmur of opposition or a flicker of criticism was just all too much. Eritrea’s long, bitter David and Goliath-like battle against Ethiopia marked its leadership with an especially strong sense of sacrifice and entitlement.
During the years of struggle, many outsiders saw the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) as a beacon of hope. I remember reading its upbeat pamphlets in the 1980s. It was committed to rejecting ethnic difference, promoting secular socialism and progressive attitudes to women. In 1993, women made up one-third of the EPLF fighters; rape was a capital offence.
How times change. Plaut’s extensive evidence shows how the regime’s repressive stance in power is a consequence of its ruler. Known simply as Isaias, Afewerki grew up in a poor district of Asmara. In the 1960s, he went to China. Schooled in Maoist ideology, he is, however, no fan of the personality cult. His official photograph may festoon shops and cafes, but he looks nice and normal. He prefers open-necked shirts, comfortable slacks and sandals. This is no mad, swivel-eyed Idi Amin-type figure, nor the psychotic school bully meets James Bond baddie look of Kim Jong-il; nor is there a sparse ginger ferret atop his head…
But make no mistake, the absence of journalists and a free press, and the emphatic presence of a network of prisons, detention centres and labour camps are the result of rule by an “austere and narcissistic dictator; thin-skinned and hot-headed”, according to a profile compiled by a recent US ambassador. He’s also vindictive. After independence, when demobilised soldiers complained that they’d not been paid for years, many were thrown into indefinite detention. So severe is the current repression that 5,000 Eritreans try to flee across the Sahel every month. Many risk their lives to escape military conscription, which for women can include sexual abuse. Isaias is still at war, but against his own people. Even the Eritrean diaspora cannot fully escape, bullied into paying an illicit 2 per cent tax to the regime, under the watchful eye of a network of spies and informants.
Plaut has put himself at some risk by writing this book. Mirjam van Reisen, a Dutch academic who criticised the regime, was physically threatened and abused on social media. The president’s so-called Youth Wing brought a lawsuit against her in the Netherlands, accusing her of libel and slander. The accusations were thrown out. Let’s hope that this regime and its cronies will be next.
Joanna Lewis is assistant professor of imperial and African history in the department of international history, London School of Economics, and author of Empire of Sentiment: David Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism (in press).
Information downplayed rights abuses and meant some Eritrean children in Calais were refused entry to UK
The government downplayed the risk of human rights abuses in one of the world’s most repressive regimes in an attempt to reduce asylum seeker numbers despite doubts from its own experts, internal documents have revealed.
Home Office documents obtained by the Public Law Project detail efforts by the government to seek more favourable descriptions of human rights conditions in Eritrea, an east African country that indefinitely detains and tortures some of its citizens as well as carrying out extrajudicial executions and operating a shoot-to-kill policy on those caught trying to flee the country.
The notes relate to a high-level meeting that took place in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, in December 2014, between senior Eritrean government officials and a UK delegation led by James Sharp, the Foreign Office’s director of migration, and Rob Jones, the Home Office’s head of asylum and family policy.
A diplomatic telegram written by the then UK ambassador to Eritrea, David Ward, says the meeting was held to “discuss reducing Eritrean migration” and sought to find evidence on human rights “to evaluate whether we [the UK] should amend our country guidance”.
The discussions focused on how to reduce the number of Eritrean asylum seekers granted refugee status in the UK and how to deter more Eritreans coming to the UK to claim asylum. UK officials were concerned that the UK’s high grant rate to Eritrean asylum seekers of about 85% would attract more Eritreans to the UK.
UK officials agreed to look at giving Eritrea aid in exchange for Eritrea agreeing to soften some of its human rights abuses. The Eritrean government appears to have agreed to limit forced military conscription to 18 months but said it would do this informally rather than by making a formal announcement. Reports from human rights watchdogs this month found that the problem of enforced and prolonged military conscription is as bad as ever.
The documents also reveal that UK officials warned that they still had concerns after the meeting about the human rights situation in Eritrea. One of the documents disclosed to the Public Law Project, entitled Informal Report of UK Visit to Eritrea 9-11 December 2014, states: “If [Eritrean] government representatives are to be believed the risk of persecution or mistreatment in Eritrea is lower than our country guidance suggests. But independent verification of their description of the situation in Eritrea is difficult to find. Further evidence is likely to be required before a significant reduction in that rate [of grants of asylum] can be supported.”
A partially redacted email sent on 17 December 2014 states: “The story on the penalties for those returning to Eritrea for evading national service or illegal exit was less clear. Non-governmental interlocutors acknowledge the possibility of extrajudicial detention on an arbitrary basis.”
A parliamentary answer in the House of Lords in January 2015 confirmed that the visit to Eritrea had taken place and said that discussions had involved “topics including the current drivers of irregular migration, ways to mitigate it, and voluntary and enforced returns”.
Lord Bates, a Home Office minister, added: “We are now considering how best to use the information gathered during the visit to develop our approach to managing migration from Eritrea.”
But despite the doubts about a real improvement in the human rights situation expressed by UK officials in the internal documents, the Home Office went ahead in March 2015 with issuing new guidance to those making decisions on asylum seekers stating that the human rights situation in Eritrea was not as bad as previously thought.
Country guidance issued by the Home Office is highly influential on both ministry officials and judges making decisions on asylum claims. This guidance is expected to contain independently verifiable evidence.
As a result of the new guidance the levels of grants of asylum to Eritreans plummeted from 85% to 60%. However, 87% of those refused under the new guidance had their refusals overturned by judges on appeal.
The 2015 guidance impacted on Eritrean children in Calais who hoped to come to the UK at the end of last year. The Home Office used the lower grant rates as a reason for excluding almost all Eritrean children in Calais aged 13-15 – the initial grant rate for Eritrean asylum seekers between March 2015 and June 2016 was below 75%.
However, a significant case in the upper (immigration) tribunal last October, known as a country guidance case, found that the new Home Office guidance on Eritrea was not credible. The Home Office has acknowledged the reality of the human rights situation and withdrawn its flawed guidance.
Alison Pickup, the legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “It is of fundamental importance to the integrity of the UK’s asylum system that decisions on refugee status are based on fair, objective and informed assessment of conditions in their country of origin. The Home Office has a legal duty to ensure that the information given to decision-makers is as accurate, up to date and complete as possible. This disclosure suggests a troubling lack of impartiality and objectivity in the selection of information to be provided to asylum decision-makers about one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in the world.”
In relation to the Home Office exclusion of Eritrean children in Calais, she said: “The Home Office’s exclusion of Eritrean refugee children on the basis of a statistic which is the result of its own flawed guidance is a tragedy.”
Safe Passage, part of Citizens UK, was working with refugee children in Calais before the camp was closed last November. The Citizens UK leader, Jonathan Clark, the bishop of Croydon, said: “It is hugely concerning that the Home Office appeared to have been willing to set aside their own concerns that they were not being told the truth about ongoing human rights violations because of a policy to reduce numbers. This faulty evidence contributed to many vulnerable children from the Calais refugee camp [being] denied sanctuary in the UK through the Dubs scheme.
“As the government considers its policy towards unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy we urge them not to rule out children from countries such as Eritrea, but help the most at risk.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it. Each application is carefully considered on its merits against background country information, ensuring only those with a genuine claim for asylum receive a grant.
“We continually review our country information and guidance to ensure it is up to date, accurate and relevant, so that staff can make fair and considered decisions. The most recent update to the guidance on Eritrea was made last year as a result of a fact-finding mission in 2016. We work closely with countries such as Eritrea to discuss migration matters.”
The Guardian has approached the FCO for comment.
Jan 22, 2017
Banjul, Gambia, Jan 22 – Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh flew out Saturday from the country he ruled for 22 years to cede power to President Adama Barrow and end a political crisis.
Jammeh refused to step down after a December 1 election in which Barrow was declared the winner, triggering weeks of uncertainty that almost ended in a military intervention involving five other west African nations.
The longtime leader boarded a small, unmarked plane at Banjul airport accompanied by Guinea’s President Alpha Conde after two days of talks aimed at hammering out a deal for his departure.
He landed in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, around an hour later, an AFP journalist at the scene said, with his final destination unknown.
Former president Yaya Jammeh (C), the Gambia’s leader for 22 years, waves from the plane as he leaves the country on 21 January 2017 in Banjul © AFP / STRINGER
“I call on President Barrow to come in immediately and take over the supreme responsibility of President, Head of State, Commander in Chief and first citizen of our republic,” Jammeh said according to remarks read out on state television before he left the country.
It would be improper not to “sincerely wish him and his administration all the best,” he added.
Jammeh took power in a 1994 coup from the country’s only other president since independence from Britain, Dawda Jawara, making this The Gambia’s first democratic transition of power.
The Gambian political crisis © AFP/File / Aude GENET
Waving to a small gathering of supporters on the tarmac dressed in his habitual white flowing robes, Jammeh, a devout Muslim, kissed a Koran before boarding.
Conde and Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz had urged Jammeh to peacefully give up his office to Barrow, who is waiting in neighbouring Senegal for the strongman to leave.
He finally said he would step aside in the early hours of Saturday morning. Barrow is expected back in The Gambia imminently.
– The Guinea question –
Earlier Guinean state minister Kiridi Bangoura had said Jammeh preferred “to come to Guinea, to stay in Conakry, before he decides, along with the Guinean authorities, where to move for good.”
People celebrate in the streets after hearing of the confirmed departure of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh in Banjul on January 21, 2017 © AFP / CARL DE SOUZA
The agreement that finally saw the strongman give in to pressure to step down “foresees the departure of Yahya Jammeh from The Gambia for an African country with guarantees for himself, his family and his relatives,” Mauritania’s Aziz said.
Diplomats said late Saturday that Equatorial Guinea was emerging as the most likely option for his exile.
This would address concerns that Jammeh might interfere in his nation’s politics if he stayed in Guinea, whose border is not far from The Gambia’s eastern region.
Scenes of jubilation broke out almost immediately on streets near Banjul, the port capital, after the news filtered out that Jammeh had gone.
“We are free now. We are no longer in prison. We do not have to watch our back before we express our opinions,” said Fatou Cham, 28, who was celebrating with her friends.
Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh was the country’s leader for 22 years © AFP/File / ISSOUF SANOGO
Activists will be keen to see Jammeh — who controlled certain sections of the security forces — refused amnesty for crimes committed during his tenure, which was marked by systematic rights abuses.
Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, called Jammeh’s departure “the chance to usher in an era based on respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
– Weeping supporters –
Jammeh attempted to build a personality cult over and has left behind a small minority of diehard supporters, some of whom wept as his plane departed.
This photo taken on December 1, 2016 in Banjul shows incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C) gesturing before casting his marble in a polling station in a presidential poll © AFP/File / MARCO LONGARI
“We wanted to be behind this man for a century or more,” said Alagie Samu, speaking on the tarmac. “He is the most successful, visionary leader in the entire world.”
Dressed in green, the colour of his political party, some were loyal to the end.
“No human being is perfect, but for 22 years in the country here he has tried hard for Gambians,” said a woman with cheeks wet from tears, who did not wish to be named.
People celebrate the inauguration of new Gambia’s President Adama Barrow at Westfield neighbourhood on January 19, 2017 in Banjul © AFP/File / STRINGER
The Gambia is one of the world’s poorest nations and although education and health standards have lifted in recent years, poverty remains endemic.
With Jammeh gone, all eyes will be on the Barrow administration as they make their first steps as a government of reform and development.
“The will of the people has come to be at last,” said Isatou Touray, a key official in the government-in-waiting. “Democracy is back, you can’t stop the people.”
A handout photo released by the Senegalese Presidency shows Adama Barrow speaking during his swearing in as president of Gambia at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on January 19, 2017 © SENEGALESE PRESIDENCY/AFP/File / Handout
Army chief Ousman Badjie, a former Jammeh loyalist, has pledged allegiance to Barrow along with top defence, civil service and and security chiefs.
The first priority will be to help the tens of thousands who have fled in recent weeks fearing a bloody end to the crisis to return safely, Touray said earlier Saturday.
Humanitarian workers from International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), recounted harrowing details of the latest major tragedy in waters off Libya after talking to four rescued passengers, two Eritreans and two Ethiopians, who arrived on Monday evening in the Sicilian port of Trapani.
The survivors, three men and one woman, were described as "traumatized and exhausted".
They said their two-tier, wooden boat had left Libya on Friday with more 180 people packed on board, all of them originally from East Africa.
After five hours at sea, the engine cut out and the boat started to take on water. As it slowly sank, more and more of the people on board were submerged under water.
One of the survivors described his desperate effort to find his wife, who had taken a spot in the centre of the ship.
After hours in the water, the survivors were rescued on Saturday 30 nautical miles from the Libyan coast by a French boat operating as part of the European borders agency Frontex's Operation Triton before being transferred to another Frontex ship, the Siem Pilot.
Siem Pilot, provided by the Norwegian coastguard, arrived in Trapani on Monday evening with the four survivors, four recovered corpses and 34 people rescued from another stricken migrant boat.
The latest deaths and rescues follow a record year for the number of migrants trying to reach Europe on the western Mediterranean route from north Africa to Italy.
Some 181,000 people were registered at Italian ports in 2016 while the UNHCR recorded more than 5,000 deaths and presumed deaths on all migrant routes across the Mediterranean.
Despite the mid-winter weather making crossings particularly perilous, the start of 2017 has brought no sign of departures slowing with some 2,300 migrants already registered in Italy since January 1st.