Eritreans, holding banners and the Israeli (L) and Eritrean flags (R), shouts slogans as they walk from Levinsky Park to the US Embassy in the southern Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 29, 2012, to demonstrate against institutionalized racism and new deportation regulations introduced in Israel.(JACK GUEZ/AFP/GettyImages)

Israel has sent a group of 14 Eritrean migrants back to Eritrea, a move that advocacy groups are calling a human rights breach, Reuters reports. The migrants had previously been detained in Israel (a 2012 law permits the country to imprison illegal immigrants).

According to Haaretz, bleak and dangerous conditions face the migrants in their home country, where military service is forced: “Punishment for draft dodging and leaving the country to avoid the draft is usually not made through the court system, and includes death by burning, extended imprisonment in inhumane conditions, torture and forced labor.”

In April 2011, Tablet contributor Daniella Cheslow reported on young Eritrean migrants, who have been allowed entry into Israel but are still considered illegal immigrants.

African migrants have been flowing across the Egyptian-Israeli border in increasing numbers since the mid-2000s. The Israeli Interior Ministry estimates there are 33,000 Africans in Israel today. At least 1,200 arrive each month, although there was a dip in January and February during the unrest in Egypt. More than 80 percent are from Sudan or Eritrea, and those migrants say they are fleeing genocidal persecution in Sudan and indefinite mandatory military service in Eritrea. Israel grants them entry because according to international law the migrants hold protected status and cannot be returned to their countries of origin. But only 140 of these African migrants have refugee status in Israel, said Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry.

In total, about 35,000 Eritreans have come to Israel through Egypt. The 14 deportees were each given $1,500 from the Israeli government, Sigal Rozen, of Israel’s Hotline for Migrant Workers, told PBS.

They were given a choice to either stay in detention or go back home, William Tall, the representative in Israel for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Haaretz.

“As UN High Commissioner, we have access to the prison, and we heard what the state offered them. Agreement to return to Eritrea under an ultimatum of jail … can’t be considered voluntary by any criterion. It is explicitly not voluntary return.”

Israel has sought to combat the growing number of African immigrants by building a fence and implementing harsher laws against undocumented people living in the country, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Thanks to a nearly completed fence along the Egyptian border, where most of the African asylum seekers cross, and a law allowing police to imprison undocumented migrants for up to three years, the number of Africans crossing the border in the first six months of 2013 was just 34, compared with 9,570 in 2012.

Last summer, Vox Tablet spoke to human rights lawyer Itamar Mann, who works for an organization that provides pro bono counsel to asylum-seekers in Israel, about possible solutions to Israel’s immigration situation.

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Israel’s African Problem
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