Israel begins deportation of South Sudanese migrants
According to new government bill, the maximum penalty for employing migrants will be raised from a two-year jail sentence to five years.
Israel's Immigration Authority began rounding up African migrants on Sunday, with eight arrests reported in Eilat and central Israel.
The Jerusalem's District Court ruled on Thursday that Israel could deport South Sudanese nationals back to their home county.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that this was a first of many steps and that a great deal of work is left until his vision of a migrant-free Israel is fulfilled.
The Ministerial Committee on legislation voted to support the stiffening of penalties for Israelis found guilty of employing, harboring or transporting migrants or Palestinians illegally residing in Israel. According to the bill the maximum penalty will be raised from the current two-year jail sentence to one of five years. The bill will also sanction the imposition of a NIS 5 million fine on persons found assisting migrants. The Knesset will hold a preliminary vote on the bill this week.
Meanwhile, a protest march uniting Israelis and African migrants took place in Tel Aviv in protest of the abolition of collective protection for migrants from South Sudan, as well as, the general atmosphere in Israel towards migrants. The march started at Levinski Park in south Tel Aviv and ended at the UN High Commission for Refugees' offices in Tel Aviv's Hashmonaim Street.
The protesters chanted "We are refugees, we are human beings" and "Sudanese aren't cancer." They carried signs slogans such as "We are refugees not enemies" and "We aren't infiltrators, we are refugees."
The court decision on Thursday permitting the deportation of the South Sudanese nationals rejected an appeal by migrant worker NGOs against Yishai's decision to halt Israel's collective defense of citizens form the war-torn country.
Once the court ruling was handed down, the Immigration Authority announced that it will begin enforcing the law as it applied to the South Sudanese nationals and their employers.
In addition, the authority announced that it will allow the South Sudanese to leave freely during the next week.
It should be mentioned that the authority would like as many of the migrants from South Sudan to leave of their own free will and because of this decided to extend their right to leave freely without legal penalty.
The Foreign Ministry recently outlined its position regarding 700 South Sudan nationals currently in Israel; the government says there are as many as 3,000 here.
The position is based on a report by Ambassador Dan Shaham, who was sent to South Sudan in April to examine the situation and see if it was suitable to return the migrants.
The document says returning the South Sudanese nationals in general would not constitute a breach of international law, which prohibits a state from expelling foreign nationals if returning them to their home country presents a clear and immediate danger to their lives.
"The international law does not oblige giving migrants shelter for socioeconomic reasons, unless the socio-economic situation in the receiving state is so bad it would endanger the asylum seeker's life, or could be described as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the opinion says.
Weinstein is expected to say that despite the petitioners' claims, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not issued any opinion saying forcible expulsion is contrary to the Refugee Convention and has not stated that it objects to these expulsions.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman this week called the illegal migration to Israel a "national plague" and said the state was holding diplomatic talks to return them to their home country or a third state.
The Justice Ministry yesterday released a statement saying the decision to expel the migrants was made on the basis of the Foreign Ministry's position paper, which said it was possible to return South Sudanese migrants to their home country only after it was established that they are not eligible for asylum.
Reports from the United Nations and human rights groups and testimonies by activists and citizens warn of severe human rights violations in South Sudan, continuous warfare and a critical shortage of food, water and medical care, which are leading to a humanitarian disaster.
The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently ruled that the return of South Sudanese to their country must be done on a voluntary basis, due to the country's instability.