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Detained refugees appeal to Israelis, rights groups for aid

The letter below was written by Eritrean refugees, held in administrative detention in Saharonim prison. Under the Prevention of Infiltration Law, they can be imprisoned for three years or more.

Saharonim and Ketsiot prisons (photo: Noam Sheizaf)


(To whom it may concern):

Subject: The judgement against Eritrean refugees in Israel

As we all know, it has been years since we were compelled to leave our country as a result of a deteriorating economic and political crisis. We came to Israel to escape intolerable levels of repression and human rights violations in our country. However, we are now concerned to learn that the government of Israel is preparing to implement a policy which forces asylum seekers to remain in prison camps for three years, or forcibly return them to their country of origin. We are also psychologically depressed by the prolonged stay in prisons. The reasons for our depression are as follows:

1. Most of us were serving in the army for many years without pay. Many have went through untold suffering in prison centers, have sustained some injuries during the war, and cannot tolerate hardships any longer.

2. Some of us are underage children who fled compulsory military conscription at schools and are displaced accordingly.

3. Some of us are over the military conscription age and were civil servants who refused to be conscripted on account of our age and were accordingly imprisoned or dismissed from jobs. We were forced to leave our country in search of safe have where we would be to take care of our families.

4. We also have women some of whom are mothers. Others have left their children in Eritrea and many of them are wasting their reproductive and marriageable age in the prison camps.

We came to Israel after crossing the borders of three countries and overcoming incredible levels of hardship. The imminent decision of a three-year forced stay in prison camps or forcible return to Eritrea comes as distressful news to us. We have endured in the past tremendous levels of hardship, which includes dreadful torture and ransom of tens of thousands of U.S. dollars by smugglers and human traffickers. Some of us have left their children in Eritrea and are being forced here to live in detached prison camps cordoned by walls and gates.

We are all refugees like all other refugees in other countries and those who have entered Israel previously. We haven’t done anything to be condemned for such kind of treatment and segregation. What did we do to be detained in cordoned sections? The situation is unbearable and is causing upon us a great deal of psychological depression. We beg concerned government bodies in Israel to find a solution to our predicament. If the government of Israel cannot find a solution to our problem, we kindly appeal for our request to be communicated to the relevant organs of the United Nations, and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others.

Eritrean refugees in Israeli refugee prison camps

Click here for more +972 coverage on asylum seekers in Israel

This letter was first published on the website of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

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    1. Leen

      Unfortunately, Israel has a terrible record with refugees (see Palestinian refugees), and the only refugees they care about are Jewish refugees. if you’re not jewish, don’t bother.

      Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      Complaints without any practical advice does not worth much.

      What are they suggesting the state should do?
      Grant them all work permits, medical insurance and let go?

      Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      This appears to be a very profesional letter . Was it really written by asylum seekers or by profesionals acting on their behalf. In a very short time 60000 refugees have arrived in Israel . Thats almost 1% of the population . With all of Israels problems , financial and social , she certainly cannot afford more

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Your depression is not our concern. You have come to Israel uninvited. In fact, you broke the law by crossing the border without a visa. Because of this you are being detained. You can leave the country or you can find shelter in the detention camps that were built for you, but you are not free to impose yourselves unbidden on the citizens of a country that has enough problems of its own.

      Feel free to inform your relatives back home that they too are unwelcome to attempt illegal entry into Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9 – you are not a nice person and on top of that are ill informed on this topic. Please see


        and notice Israel as a signatory, and read this paragraph

        A refugee has the right to be free from penalties pertaining to the illegality of their entry to or presence within a country, if it can be shown that they acted in good faith- that is, if the refugee believes that there was ample cause for their illegal entry/presence, i.e. to escape threats upon their life or freedom, and if they swiftly declare their presence. This right is protected in Article 31:
        “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. (Article 31, (1) )

        and then feel a little stupid for speaking before reading.


        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Ill informed is you are, my friend.

          Israel is not the country of first asylum and carries not responsibilities mentioned in the paragraph.

          Reply to Comment