Mairav Zonszeinin Tel Aviv
Israel will begin deporting asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to unnamed third countries in Africa even if against their will, the immigration authority announced on Tuesday.
The assumption is that the third countries are Rwanda and Uganda, although Israel has not revealed details.
According to the interior minister, Gilad Erdan, the move will “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel in an honourable and safe way, and serve as an effective tool for fulfilling our obligations towards Israeli citizens and restoring the fabric of life to the residents of south Tel Aviv”.
Until now, the state exerted pressure and provided a one-off monetary incentive for asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, but only if they signed written consent. Now the state will give them 30 days to leave; those who refuse will face a hearing to determine their indefinite imprisonment.
People in Holot, a detention facility in the Negev, currently requesting asylum will not be immediately affected by the new measure.
Mutasim Ali, a detainee in Holot who fled Darfur and is a leading activist in Israel’s African asylum seeker community, said the new policy was not that different from the current grim reality.
“This is just another technique Israel is using to make our lives miserable and force people to leave,” he said. “There is not a big difference between being detained in Holot and being imprisoned in Saharonim [a prison in the Negev desert]. If we had 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 UN 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.
An estimated 42,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals currently reside 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.