Court to Rule on Deporting Asylum Seekers From Israel

Human rights organizations ask to cancel policy of dispatching African refugees to third country.

Zafrir Rinat
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Asylum seekers returning to the Holot detention center, southern Israel, January 2015.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Zafrir Rinat

Human rights organizations petitioned the Be’er Sheva District Court Thursday to cancel the Population and Immigration Authority’s new policy of forcibly deporting asylum seekers to a third country (not their country of origin). Attorneys from Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic filed the petition in the name of several human rights organizations, including Hamoked and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The petitioners cited two asylum seekers in the Holot detention facility who have received deportation orders, and submitted a request for an injunction to freeze the existing situation and prevent the incarceration of those who decline the arrangement.

As reported a month ago in Haaretz, the Population and Immigration Authority decided to change its policy toward Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel so they could be transferred, even without their consent, to other countries in Africa. Until now, pressure has been exerted on them to agree, but it has not been forced on them. Some did leave Israel for Rwanda and Uganda.

The petition says that the two asylum seekers, along with dozens of others, were informed that they must leave for Rwanda and that if they refuse to do so within 30 days, they will be placed in custody for failure to cooperate with their expulsion. The two are Eritrean citizens who were forced to flee from their country. They informed the authorities that they refuse to go to Rwanda, having learned of the fate of some who already left Israel and in the absence of sufficient information regarding arrangements for their transfer to that country.

In its response to the petition, the state argues that the new move would only apply to infiltrators who did not submit asylum requests, or whose request was denied. It also said that in the countries involved, the infiltrator’s life and liberty should not be at risk on the basis of race or religion.

The petitioners argued that the possibility of submitting individual asylum requests has only existed for two years, and without any official announcement to inform the asylum seekers. In fact, the Interior Ministry has only granted asylum to four Eritreans and one Sudanese. As for other asylum seekers, they are still entitled to other protections under international law, including protection based on the principle of non-return. Another principle not being upheld by the new policy is having an inspection mechanism to oversee an agreement to send people to a country other than their country of origin.

The petition also cites the story of T., an asylum seeker from Eritrea who left Israel for Rwanda last March. Upon his arrival there, his travel documents were confiscated and he was put under house arrest. He tried to cross the border into Uganda after paying large sums of money to smugglers, but was arrested and imprisoned.

The organizations that filed the petition say there is a fear that the transfer of asylum seekers to a third country exposes them to the possibility of deportation to their country of origin. This fear is backed up by extensive testimony, and conforms with information in the possession of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Another argument made was that the secrecy of the understandings that Israel has with third countries creates fertile ground for the violation of these understandings. Therefore, asylum seekers cannot be forcibly deported to a third country or held in detention because they refuse to cooperate with this deportation.

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