African migrants walk on a road after leaving the Holot detention facility
African migrants walk on a road after leaving the Holot open detention facility. Photo by Reuters
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“Exit routes” is how the state’s representative described Israel’s program for flying asylum seekers to Uganda and Rwanda, under the procedure Israel refers to as “voluntary departure.” But terms like these, which were used in last week’s High Court of Justice hearing on the issue, are simply part of the state’s effort to whitewash its deficient policy toward asylum seekers.

“Voluntary departure” is achieved by exerting heavy pressure on asylum seekers, including detention for an undetermined period in the Holot holding facility, whose operation is governed by the most recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, the amendment now being reviewed by the High Court. “Exit routes” are countries – Uganda and Rwanda, as far as we know – in which the asylum seekers land without any arrangements having been made to secure their status or their rights.

Accounts published by Haaretz indicate that by and large, the asylum seekers have no documents or official permits to regulate their presence in those countries. After they arrive, they have no contact with official representatives of the destination country or of Israel, and no one seems to be assisting them. In the absence of transparency regarding the agreements Israel has signed with these countries, there is a serious concern that the asylum seekers are being abandoned to their fate.

So long as the prospect of detention for an undetermined period is being dangled over the heads of asylum seekers, they are not agreeing to leave Israel of their own free will. The group protection that Israel claims it is granting to asylum seekers under the principle of non-return, which prohibits the return of individuals to a country where their lives or freedom are at risk, has become a farce.

The principle of non-return is also violated when asylum seekers are expelled to a third country in which there are no clear guarantees that their security and freedom will be preserved. The U.K. Supreme Court recently ruled that sending Eritrean and Iranian asylum seekers back to Italy is improper, unless a careful examination assures they will be properly protected and have decent living conditions in Italy, where they first claimed asylum.

The information we have about the fate of the asylum seekers whom Israel has sent to Uganda and Rwanda makes it all the more necessary to strike down the amendment whose constitutionality the High Court is evaluating. The court must make it clear that it disagrees with the attorney general and refuses to support Israel’s unacceptable policies.