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Eritrean refugees leave Israel for Sweden

Published onsdag 8 januari 2014 kl 10.57
African migrants gather during a Tel Aviv protest. Some 60,000 Africans, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have trekked through Egypt and other Muslim countries to reach Israel in recent years. Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP

Dozens of Eritrean asylum seekers have left Israel for Sweden in recent weeks, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced amidst mass protests against the country's migration policies.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar as claiming that the Eritreans had left voluntarily. He did not specify how many had gone to Sweden, but the majority were apparently women, many of whom had been the victims of torture and human trafficking and had been detained in Israel for a long period, Haaretz reported.

The Israeli Interior Ministry said the migrants left for Sweden as part of a government incentive scheme and were granted US$3,500 each upon departure and promised not to return.

However, Oded Feller, an attorney dealing with residence and migration issues, claimed: "Asylum seekers who were sent to Sweden did not leave as part of the Ministry's voluntary departure process, but as part of the efforts of the UNHCR to resettle people who qualify as refugees."

Feller heads the division dealing with residence status and migration in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. "It's not clear what the Interior Ministry take pride in," he told Haaretz. "Sweden only resettles people with refugee status who are not afforded adequate protection in countries they find themselves in."

Sa'ar made his announcement in the midst of a massive, three-day strike by African migrant workers which started Sunday, but the Eritreans'  transferal to Sweden apparently occurred a few weeks ago.

The Swedish embassy in Israel declined to respond to queries from Haaretz.

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