An Open Letter to Jewish Council of Racial Equality on Eritrea Asylum Seekers
Dr. Edie Freeman
Jewish Council of Racial Equality (JCORE)
22 January 2014
Dear Dr Edie
It is with great sadness that we bring to your attention of the worrying situation of African refugees in Israel.
In recent weeks, the Israeli government stepped up the arrest and imprisonment of African asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea. Several months ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice struck down a law authorizing the state to lock up for three years, and in some cases indefinitely, any person who entered the country illegally. But last month the Knesset passed a new law, authorizing the state to hold asylum seekers in prison for a year. A new “open” holding facility named “Holot” began operating in the desert, where asylum seekers can be held indefinitely until their eventual deportation.” This has caused a lot of distress to refugees who have been victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin and their journeys and mistreatment in Israel. It has triggered protests by tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and across Israel, who are demanding recognition as refugees.
It is very difficult to understand why Israel, a country founded by Jew refugees from all over the world and a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, is mistreating Eritreans and other African asylum seekers? These are not job-seekers and ‘infiltrators’ as they are called by the government, but genuine asylum seekers who need protection. The Torah, in Exodus 23:9 says “don’t oppress a stranger; you yourselves know how it feels to be strangers, because you were strangers in Egypt”. Given the history of the prosecution of the Jewish people we find it difficult to understand why the Israeli Government is not treating asylum seekers from Eritrea with the respect and dignity they deserve.
In fact, Jews were welcomed by the people of Eritrea as long ago as the 19th century, and lived in harmony there. A synagogue was built in 1906 in Asmara, capital of Eritrea. In the 1930s many Jews immigrated to Eritrea to escape Nazi Persecution in Europe. Yet the current Israeli Government is now denying Eritrean Asylum Seekers the same right accorded to the earlier Jewish Community in Eritrea.
It has been established by Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations that the Government of Eritrea is subjecting the people of Eritrea to extreme repression. Government officials and ordinary citizens are detained without due course of law, all private new papers are banned, there is religious persecution and there are disappearances. The indefinite forced military service gave rise to the influx of huge number of young Eritrean to exile and more than 30,000 have made it to Israel. All Western democratic countries, including the UK, have given and are giving asylum to Eritreans.
Eritrean Refuge Support Association in the United Kingdom (ERSA-UK) humbly begs the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) to appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Interior Gideon Sa’ar, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and Minster of defence Moshe Ya’alon to respect their country’s commitment to the UN Convention to protect refugees and recognise African asylum seekers as refugees and allow them to be treated with respect and dignity.
NB: We have talked about the issue with JOCORE to contact the Israeli government and the Jewish Chronicle who at first seemed to be interested and asked for more information. But later on both apologised saying they have no mandate to deal with issues taking place in Israel. There is no other way but to keep the flame of protest where ever there is an Israeli Embassy and also to appeal to peace and justice loving people all over the world.