Detained asylum seekers in the Saharonim prison in southern Israel have told human rights representatives that 15 Eritrean prisoners are about to be deported to Eritrea, according to the Hotline for Migrant Workers.
Some 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers have been jailed in the desert facility for more than a year. Israel, after ignoring their asylum applications for months, began rejecting them en masse last month, despite reports indicating that deportees could face torture upon return, and that 74 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers are recognized as refugees worldwide.
The 15 Eritreans are slated for deportation in what Israel calls a “Voluntary Return” procedure, and many more are expected to follow. The procedure is grossly misnamed, however, as it is widely accepted that the deportation of asylum seekers from prison can never be considered voluntary. (Israeli officials in Saharonim regularly tell the asylum seekers that the only way they can expect to get out of jail is by getting on a plane.) Earlier this year, UNHCR condemned Israel’s efforts to deport Eritreans from prison, noting that “agreement to return to Eritrea under a jail ultimatum cannot be considered voluntary by any criterion.”