Israel Prepares Mass Deportation of South Sudanese Refugees

Attorney General to seek okay from Jerusalem court to expel as many as 3,000 migrants to country facing humanitarian crisis.

Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin

The government is preparing a mass deportation of refugees back to their South Sudan homeland. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein next week will argue before the Jerusalem District Court that there is no legal obstacle to the expulsions since individual checks will establish that none of them faces any threat to their lives in South Sudan.

The Jerusalem District Court recently issued a temporary order prohibiting the migrants' deportation until it rules on a petition filed by five human rights organizations against the state's intent to deport the refugees.

Weinstein, who has expressed support for sending migrants from South Sudan back home, will ask the court to lift the temporary order preventing their expulsion.

However, attorney Anat Ben-Dor of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, who filed the petition for the groups, said: "A humanitarian crisis is developing in South Sudan, which is expected to lead to extreme famine. In addition, the border conflicts with Sudan are continuing, so in these circumstances the decision to return the Sudanese to South Sudan is premature and irresponsible."

The Foreign Ministry recently outlined its position regarding 700 South Sudan nationals staying in Israel; the government says there are as many as 3,000 here. The position is based on a report by Ambassador Dan Shaham, who was sent to South Sudan in April to examine the situation and see if it was suitable to return the migrants.

The document says returning the South Sudanese nationals in general would not constitute a breach of international law, which prohibits a state from expelling foreign nationals if returning them to their home country presents a clear and immediate danger to their life.

"The international law does not oblige giving migrants shelter for socioeconomic reasons, unless the socio-economic situation in the receiving state is so bad it would endanger the asylum seeker's life, or could be described as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the opinion says.

Weinstein is expected to say that despite the petitioners' claims, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not issued any opinion saying forcible expulsion is contrary to the Refugee Convention and has not stated it objects to these expulsions.

Weinstein will tell the court the authorities will look into the circumstances of every migrant who expresses fear for his life in South Sudan, due to personal or government conflicts.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman this week called the illegal migration to Israel a "national plague" and said the state was holding diplomatic talks to return them to their home country or a third state.

The Justice Ministry yesterday released a statement saying the decision to expell the migrants was made on the basis of the Foreign Ministry's position paper, which said it was possible to return South Sudanese migrants to their home country only after it was established that they are not eligible for asylum.

Reports from the United Nations and human rights groups and testimonies by activists and citizens warn of severe human rights violations in South Sudan, continuous warfare and a critical shortage of food, water and medical care, which are leading to a humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently ruled that the return of South Sudanese to their country must be done on a voluntary basis, due to the country's instability.

A demonstration against migrant workers in south Tel Aviv, May 23, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod



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