African migrants walk on a road after choosing to permanently leave their open detention facility
African migrants walk on a road after choosing to permanently leave their open detention facility, which began operating last week in the southern Israeli desert December 15, 2013. Photo by Reuters
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The morally disgraceful and illegal actions taken by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar against asylum seekers in Israel have been uncovered by the Israeli court system. Haaretz reported on Thursday on a slew of court rulings that declared actions taken by the Interior Ministry through the Population and Immigration Authority to be contradictory to Israel’s legal obligations, as well as ignoring or downright violating refugees’ basic right to due process of law.

According to the UN Refugee Convention (1951), to which Israel is a party, refugees must not be expelled. According to international law, nations are also not allowed to expel asylum seekers; instead they are supposed to receive collective protection.

Despite this, Sa’ar boasted on Thursday that during the month of February, 1,500 asylum seekers will leave Israel of their own volition, returning to their native countries. He did not say that their “agreement” to return was achieved by imprisoning them, or through the application of psychological pressure. He did not say that the law bypassed the Supreme Court, and was hastily passed after an almost identical law was previously shot down, on the grounds of illegality. He did not say that this law allowed Israel to imprison asylum seekers for indefinite amounts of time. While imprisoned, Population and Immigration Authority officials tell them horror stories - that they’ll remain in prison all their lives, their only way out being to agree to return home. The UN Refugee Agency has stated what is clear to everyone, except Sa’ar, that decisions made by individuals under such conditions cannot be described as “of their own volition.”

Two days ago, Haaretz reported that asylum seekers are being flown to Uganda. The Interior Ministry, as well as the Population and Immigration Authority, refused to comment on this, nor did they present any kind of agreement with the Ugandan government. There are legitimate suspicions that here as well Israel is violating the rights of these refugees and asylum seekers.

The responsibility for breaking the law and violating asylum seekers’ rights rests not only with Sa’ar, but also with the prime minister, framer of this policy. By approving these policies, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is also an essential partner in this moral disgrace. Weinstein believes Israel is incapable of absorbing 53,000 refugees. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers are allowed, but asylum seekers facing grave danger in their homelands are not worthy of the same protection. Weinstein is thereby turning his back on the law, in effect, allowing the blood to flow.