Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Wednesday instructed immigration police to begin rounding up and detaining Sudanese migrants on October 15, in what migrants’ aid groups see as a racist move and a violation of the UN Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.
Because Sudan is classified by Israel as an enemy state, they say, it is forbidden to repatriate Sudanese nationals who are seeking asylum.
Yishai, who made the announcement after obtaining the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, said migrants who leave the country voluntarily before October 15 will receive assistance from his office, while those who don’t will be imprisoned and deported.
Hotline for Migrant Workers, an organization that assists migrants, said Wednesday that “imprisoning refugees from north Sudan and Darfur, who are genocide survivors, is a blatant violation of the UN Refugee Convention.”
Attorney Yonatan Berman of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the Academic Center for Law and Business said, “Yishai’s complete indifference to human life is astonishing,” adding that Israel’s threat to deport migrants unless they leave the country violates the refugee convention.
“Since it is not possible to deport them, it is illegal to lock up thousands of asylum-seekers for no reason,” Berman said. “We are convinced the Foreign and Justice Ministries have not agreed to the interior minister’s statement, whose main purpose is to create the illusion that he’s doing something,” he added.
“Only a man who has lost all human image can impose the wicked choice on asylum-seekers and their children to risk their life in returning [to their country] or be imprisoned for years,” said attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Yishai also said he intended to obtain legal approval to lock up and deport asylum-seekers and migrants from Eritrea.
Although Eritrea has diplomatic relations with Israel, it sees its nationals here as deserters from the army. Thus those who return are in danger of being subjected to heavy penalties and their lives might even be at risk.
Eritrean citizens are required to do national or military service, ostensibly for 1.5 years, between the age of 17 and 45. The service, however, is frequently extended indefinitely. They are also required to do reserve service until the age of 55, with no possibility of being discharged.
The state is subject to tough international sanctions due to repeated human rights violation by its president, Isaias Afewerki.
Eritrea told Israel it does not want it to return its nationals who have fled to the Jewish state.
The imprisonment of African migrants has been sanctioned by a law passed by the Knesset in January, authorizing the state to detain migrants for up to three years, without requiring them to be convicted by a court of law or to be sentenced to prison.