Israel Delaying Deportation of Asylum Seekers to Africa

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A photo of Holot Detention Center by one of its inmates, Noraldin Musa.Credit: Noraldin Musa

Despite Israel’s immigration authority telling asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan six weeks ago they were going to be deported to Rwanda or Uganda, or face indefinite jail time, none of those informed of the move have yet been affected – even though the deadline for their supposed departure has passed.

Asylum seekers wait to hear their requests heard.Credit: Alon Ron

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority did not respond to questions by Haaretz.

Following a report on the matter in Haaretz, the immigration authority said it would not deport anyone who had already submitted an asylum request and hadn’t agreed to leave Israel. In recent weeks, it has emerged that many of the asylum seekers who had received deportation notices subsequently submitted asylum applications. Some said they had submitted applications previously, but never received a response.

This time, people who applied for asylum were quickly summoned for a short interview at the Holot detention facility’s immigration bureau. They were asked why they had not submitted an application in the past and were told their application would be examined, notwithstanding the deportation notice they had received.

One of the first to receive a deportation notice was Caleb Gvargaris, 37, from Eritrea, who has been held at Holot for more than a year. At this point, he says, he doesn’t know what it is going to happen to him. He told Haaretz on Tuesday that when the immigration authorities asked him in his interview why he had not applied before, he told them he had done so. Gvargaris said he was told they could not find that application, and so he submitted another one after a short interview.

On Wednesday, the Be’er Sheva District Court is set to hear a request by human rights groups for an interim order freezing deportation and imprisonment, until their petition is heard against the change in government policy on the matter of the asylum seekers’ deportation to a third country.

The human rights groups say the deportation is invalid and endangers the lives of the asylum seekers. “As opposed to declarations by the interior minister and the Population, Immigration and Border Authority on the willingness of ‘third countries’ to accept asylum seekers sent from Israel, the countries to which these people have been sent so far are not in fact a ‘destination’ where asylum seekers can remain or live securely while receiving their basic rights,” attorneys Anat Ben-Dor and Elad Cahana, of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, wrote in their petition.

Senior government figures in Uganda have in recent weeks denied the existence of any agreement with Israel. In a report in Ugandan daily New Vision, the country’s foreign minister, a spokeswoman for its Interior Ministry and the refugee commissioner in the Prime Minister’s Office said no such agreement with Israel existed.

Henry Okello, Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, said that if Israel had sent asylum seekers to Uganda from Eritrea and Sudan, this had been done illegally.

However, Rwandan President Paul Kagame confirmed about a month ago that Rwanda was in the last phases of formulating an agreement “totaling millions of dollars,” in which his country would take in illegal immigrants that Israel intends to deport.

According to Population, Immigration and Border Authority numbers, more than 1,500 Eritreans and Sudanese have left Israel over the past 18 months as part of its “voluntary departure” procedure. The state has not revealed the names of the third countries, but it is known the deportees were sent to Uganda and Rwanda.

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