TEL AVIV — Israel’s Immigration Authority is offering Teshoma Nega, a 35-year old who fled Eritrea because his life was in danger, two bad alternatives. The first option for Nega, who has been in Israel since 2008, is to reside in Holot Residency Center, an isolated desert facility where he has limited freedom of movement and no access to employment. The second is to leave Israel through its voluntary departure program.
“I cannot go back to Eritrea. It is too much risky for me,” Nega told Al Jazeera outside the Holot Residency Center, where he has been living for ten months alongside other asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. “I have to wait for another kind of opportunity.”
Nega is one of about 55,000 people who have fled to Israel from Eritrea, where rights abuses are rampant, or war-torn Sudan.
Over the past two years, more than 9,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees took the risk that Nega refuses to take, and exited Israel through its voluntary departure program. The majority of them returned to their home countries, while some went to other African destinations. Israeli authorities grant those who agree to leave a one-way flight ticket and $3,500.
The voluntary departure program was created in 2012 to encourage African asylum-seekers — whom the government views as “infiltrators” that threaten the “Jewish identity” of the state — to leave by their own will.