The Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority has confirmed a report in Tuesday’s Haaretz that the authority will begin deporting asylum seekers in the coming days from Eritrea and Sudan to third countries in Africa, even without their consent.
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The authority is not disclosing the identity of those countries or the nature of the agreements, but they are apparently Uganda and Rwanda, where about 1,500 asylum seekers have already been sent over the past year after signing a statement that their departure was voluntary.
Under the new policy, asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan will be able to be deported without their consent. Those who refuse will also be placed at the Saharonim Prison in south Israel for an indefinite period.
In a statement, the authority said that outgoing Interior Minister Gilad Erdan is leading the process, which received the approval of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. At least at first, the Population Authority stated, no one who has filed an asylum application and has not yet received a response will be deported against their will. The state almost routinely turns down such applications by Eritreans, however, and Sudanese applicants rarely get a response. Up to now, Israel has granted refugee status to just four of the 5,573 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan.
There are currently about 42,000 citizens of Eritrea and Sudan in Israel, of whom some 2,000 are being held in the Holot detention facility. According to data the state provided the High Court, 5,803 citizens of Sudan and Eritrea left Israel last year, 1,093 of them for third countries.
The state has imposed considerable pressure on Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to leave on their own accord, either for their native countries or to other African countries, but has refrained from deporting them. Those who have left Israel have done so only after signing a document declaring that their departure is voluntary because Israel grants group protection to asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea – as it is bound to do so as a signatory of an international refugee convention. Group protection means that Israel cannot deport people whose lives would be in danger in their own country.
During the new policy's initial stage, Population and Immigration Authority officials will examine which group of those currently at Holot detention facility are eligible to be sent to a third country. According to the authority, asylum seekers will be given notice that they have 30 days to leave the country.
“Infiltrators will be provided full information about the departure process, the process of being absorbed [elsewhere] and the third country where they are to be received. The departure process – including airlines tickets, hotels and a departure grant – will be the responsibility of the State of Israel, which will fund them,” the authority stated.
“The process will encourage infiltrators to leave the State of Israel in a safe and dignified manner,” Erdan said, and in reference to south Tel Aviv neighborhoods were many of the asylum seekers have settled, added that the policy “will provide an effective tool for carrying out our obligation to the citizens of the State of Israel and south Tel Aviv to restore the fabric of life that they were used to.”
Two months ago, a representative of the state hinted at such a policy change during a High Court of Justice hearing on the issue. If an asylum seeker in Israel was offered the option of moving to Canada, the person would not have the right to refuse, argued attorney Yochi Gnessin, who heads the department at the State Prosecutor’s Office that deals with illegal immigrants. “A person who is offered a move to a state that does not constitute a danger to their life or their freedom does not have the right of veto,” she said.
A Haaretz investigation published last April revealed that those asylum seekers who left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda had no basic rights and no legal status in those countries. This made survival virtually impossible, prompting them to leave Rwanda and Uganda and resume being refugees once again, according to reports by human rights groups.
According to the United Nations refugee convention, asylum seekers cannot be sent to any country unless there is an agreement with that country that ensures safeguarding their rights and welfare, noted Oded Feller, an immigration lawyer with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. “The government of Israel has refused to disclose any agreements with the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, and it is doubtful if any such agreements exist in writing. Those countries deny there are agreements at all,” added Feller.