/ 1 April 2015

Israel set to deport African ‘infiltrators’

African migrants protesting against Israel's immigration policies in Tel Aviv.
African migrants protesting against Israel's immigration policies in Tel Aviv.

Israel will begin to deport asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to unnamed third countries in Africa even if against their will, the country’s immigration authority announced this week.

It is assumed the unnamed countries are Rwanda and Uganda, but Israel has not revealed any details.

According to the interior minister, Gilad Erdan, the move will “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel honourably and safely, and serve as an effective tool for fulfilling our obligations towards Israeli citizens and restoring the fabric of life to the residents of Tel Aviv”.

Until now, the state exerted pressure and provided a one-time monetary incentive for asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, but only if they signed written consent. Now the state will provide them with 30 days to leave, and those who refuse will face a sentencing hearing to determine whether they will be sent back to Holot, the detention facility in Israel’s desert, or imprisoned indefinitely.

People in Holot currently requesting asylum will not be immediately affected by the new measure.

Not that different from current grim reality
Mutasim Ali, a detainee in Holot who fled Darfur and is a leading activist in Israel’s African asylumseeker community, said the new policy was not that different from the current grim reality.

“This is another technique Israel uses to make our lives miserable. There is a difference between being detained in Holot and being imprisoned in Saharonim [another detention facility],” he said. “If we’d other options we wouldn’t be in Israel.”

According to Asaf Weitzen, the head of the legal department at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers, the new policy is the state’s way of circumventing a recent supreme court ruling that limits detention to 20 months.

“Determining that someone who does not leave ‘voluntarily’ will be incarcerated for an indefinite amount of time is a blatant violation of the principles of international law,” said Weitzen, adding that there was no guarantee they would have any rights once they reach the third country. Eritreans and Sudanese are entitled to collective protection under the 1951 United Nations refugee convention to which Israel is a signatory, because their lives would be in danger if they were sent back to their countries of origin.

There are an estimated 42 000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals living in Israel, of whom about 2 000 are being held in Holot. According to the immigration authorities, 1 500 left with consent to a third country in 2014 and 7 000 returned to their home countries. – © Guardian News & Media 2015