From the depths of the archive of patents Israel has invented to get rid of undesirable people, “voluntary return” has now been pulled out as a means of removing Eritrean nationals who fled here. According to Talila Nesher’s report in Thursday’s Haaretz, some Eritrean prisoners are being given a choice: sign a form okaying their “voluntary return” to their own country or a third country, or remain in jail for three years.
There is no greater moral injustice than this cruel proposal, which ignores the UN convention on refugee rights that Israel signed. Granted, Eritrean nationals aren’t recognized in Israel as refugees because the state isn’t interested in conducting case-by-case examinations of their status. But they do enjoy collective protection because of the dangers they face in their own land, where the concept of human rights is unknown.
Eritrea, with which Israel maintains full diplomatic relations mainly due to its security interests, is a murderous dictatorship. Human rights organizations are not allowed to operate there, and opponents of the regime are liquidated. Its citizens are drafted into the army for life, and anyone who deserts is shot or imprisoned for lengthy terms. “Voluntary return” to a country like that is like volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad.
This fact is no secret to Israeli decision-makers. Hence the manner, which borders on malicious deceit, in which they try to get rid of asylum seekers. Israel knows that it is responsible for their fate, and that its signature on international conventions obligates it to act in accordance with their provisions. But when this responsibility causes inconvenience, it searches for a “humane” way to circumvent it. Signing a “voluntary return” form − like the “voluntary emigration” Israel has used with Palestinians it wants to deport − ostensibly shifts the responsibility to the refugee and allows Israel to wash its hands clean.
And thus a state whose goal is to serve as a refuge for the Jewish people, which ought to set an example in its behavior toward persecuted asylum-seekers, instead devises a benighted trick to escape the burden. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority should come to its senses and immediately cease this harmful attempt to get rid of protected Eritrean nationals, in violation of international conventions.
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