Israel’s big lie revealed: Deported asylum seekers in Uganda lament broken promises and a grim future
Haaretz met with deported asylum seekers who were left with no papers or work permits; they can’t even enter refugee camps as they have no status. One option is to risk death and head for Europe
By Uzi Dann (Kampala, Uganda) Mar 04, 2018
KAMPALA, Uganda – It’s around noon in Uganda’s capital Kampala. The streets are bustling and traffic is heavy. Meles looks out of place, and he certainly feels it. “I don’t have a future here,” he tells Haaretz. “I have no hope, no job. My life is ruined.”
He’s a relative newcomer here. He has been here for around two and a half months and says it’s just a matter of time until he’s on the road again. “I’m already 31 and prefer to try my luck elsewhere rather than live this way, God willing,” he says, pointing upward and not at the two crosses on his chest. “This time I’ll be lucky.”
The last time he tried his luck nearly a decade ago he deserted his unlimited military service in the Eritrean army and started walking north. Ultimately he reached Israel, where he lived for more than seven and a half years, from the beginning of 2010 until last November. Then he was forced to “leave voluntarily.”
In addition to the threat of prison if he didn’t leave, there was the $3,500 that Israel gave and the laissez-passer document, ensuring him legal status in a third country and the right to work. There were also verbal assurances that things would be all right – that he’d be able to make a living and integrate into his new country.
Soon after Meles landed at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, he discovered there wasn’t much substance to the assurances, not even a way to contact the government clerk who sent him there. And regarding the documents, someone in Uganda was there to take them away from him as soon as he landed.
Haaretz on the ground in Uganda - דלג
Haaretz has heard this story repeatedly from former asylum seekers in Israel who went to Rwanda (and from there took a circuitous path to neighboring Uganda), and from those whose airplane ticket took them straight to Entebbe. Haaretz met with more than 15 of them in Kampala and spoke with several others by phone. No Israeli official contacted them once they had left Israel, or took any interest in them once they had reached Africa.
Meles has no documents and no job, and has no status in Uganda letting him work. He has spent some of the $3,500, and it looks like the rest will be gone soon. He regrets that he didn’t opt for the Holot detention center in the south.
Meles in Kampala. Uzi Dan
“It would be better to be in jail in Israel, where at least I would get food,” he says, adding that he advises asylum seekers still in Israel not to accept the offer of passage to a third country.
Meles’ Hebrew is excellent, an indication that he adjusted well during his seven and a half years in Israel. He worked three years for one employer and four years for another, the owner of a grocery store near Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. From the very beginning he tried to obtain legal status in Israel.
When he arrived at the Saharonim detention facility in 2010, he gave details about his travails. He repeated them a month later when he left Saharonim and was granted a temporary visa. And he repeated them five years later when he submitted an asylum request. Like many others, he never received an answer on his request, but around that time he was told that his residence visa would not be renewed.