Saharonim detention facility.
African migrants held in Saharonim detention facility. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar has announced a plan to deport migrants from Eritrea and Sudan after the holidays, using expressions such as "voluntary return," a public call out" and "assistance in the departure process."

The announcement's wording can lead one to think, mistakenly, that Israel is helping these migrants on their way to a coveted destination. In this case it's Uganda, which has reached an agreement with Israel to accept the transfer of the immigrants to its custody. The agreement's terms have been kept in the dark and the fate of those who are transferred there is also unclear.

In the same announcement, after the polite, sanitized words, Sa'ar added that the state will take steps against those who refuse to leave, such as denying them a visa to stay in Israel and forbidding them to work. This raises the question of what sort of "voluntary departure" procedure the interior minister is talking about, when the alternative facing those who refuse is imprisonment and persecution.

Sa'ar's plan is nothing but an attempt at mass expulsion of the African migrants, many of whom are refugees and asylum-seekers protected by international law. Israel has renounced them and evaded its responsibility to them since they first knocked on its gates.

Israel gave the 55,000 African migrants living here collective protection to avoiding violating the principle that a person must not be deported to a place where his life or freedom would be jeopardized. But it refused to check the migrants' individual status, as it was obliged to do as a signatory to the Refugee Convention and as a state subject to international law. Israel denies the migrants' basic civil rights, such as the chance to work and access to health services, while enforcing the so-called "infiltration law," which allows their detention without trial for at least three years, and incarcerates them indefinitely on the mere suspicion of criminal acts.

Sa'ar's statement means peeling off the last layers of protection the asylum-seekers had left. The fence built in the south has stopped the stream of migrants into Israel almost completely. And at the same time it is deporting the migrants, Israel is importing hundreds of foreign workers. Despite this, the interior minister is insisting on measures that constitute a moral failure and a betrayal of basic universal human values of solidarity and saving lives.