Another Tragedy of Israel's Immoral African Refugee Policy

Israel is the least moral country in the world when it comes to awarding asylum to those who deserve it, UN numbers show. The High Court of Justice must hurry up and close the Holot detention facility.

Protesters at the Holot Detention Center
Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

“I have a hard time calling this voluntary departure,” Najmaldin Omar of South Sudan, who has been in Israel for four years, told Haaretz (for a blog post by Vered Lee published on Sunday). His spirit was broken by the relentless war waged against him by the government, and he decided to agree to return “voluntarily” to South Sudan.

“I received a summons to Holot a month ago. As far as I am concerned, Israel is forcing me to choose between a slow psychological death in a detention facility and leaving Israel, which entails lethal danger. I choose the danger,” he says. “I can’t be locked up in a desert without trial and without knowing when I will be released ... and when I will be released in a year or two, to what reality will I return? Will I again have to report to the Population and Immigration Authority offices every month and receive a permit without basic rights? Will I again need to suffer racism on the street?”

Four years ago, when South Sudan declared independence, the Israeli interior minister at the time, Eli Yishai, rushed to return asylum seekers from the region to their new country. A short while later war resumed in South Sudan, and it continues to this day. It turned out that Israel sent people to a life-threatening reality, and it continues to do so.

Israel is the least moral country in the world when it comes to awarding asylum to people who deserve it, according to the United Nations Refugee Convention. Other countries recognize refugees from South Sudan and Eritrea at high rates – according to UN High Commissioner of Refugees data, 84% of Eritreans and 56% of South Sudanese were recognized as refugees or won full protection, while Israel barely approves refugee status for 0.07% of applicants.

On the contrary, the Population Authority makes it harder for them to support themselves in Israel, and the government and Knesset pile recycled legislation on the High Court of Justice – bills that, according to the High Court’s criteria, are unconstitutional and violate the asylum seekers’ human rights.

Just recently the prime minister called on Jews in Europe to utilize their right to seek refuge in Israel. He did this because he believes that uncomfortable conditions for Jews in Europe were created, accompanied by acts of terror. However, they are dreamlike conditions compared to the dangers of death and real abuse in the African countries where Israel sends them.

We have to prevent the life-endangering return of Najmaldin Omar to South Sudan. We have to give him refuge and defend his human rights. We have to stop sending asylum seekers to Holot and instead give them refuge, as other Western nations do. The High Court of Justice must hurry up and close the detention facility.