Israel's AG to Draw Up Guidelines for 'Voluntary' Repatriation of Jailed Eritrean, Sudanese Migrants

Three months ago, Haaretz reported Israel had 'voluntarily' repatriated 1,000 Sudanese migrants without informing the UNHCR, and offered Eritreans choice between staying in jail, or signing voluntary repatriation forms.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Human rights organizations are furious over a plan by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to formulate guidelines for the "voluntary" repatriation of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants held in Israeli jails.

Weinstein announced Sunday night that he has instructed his deputy, Dina Zilber, to quickly complete guidelines for determining whether these migrants are truly returning voluntarily.

"With regard to an infiltrator held in custody, it's necessary to clarify whether the desire he expresses is truly of his own free will," the announcement said. The guidelines are to specify, among other things, what questions the migrant must be asked and how the process will be supervised.

"This is an attempt to justify wrongdoing," fumed attorney Michal Pinchuk, director of Assaf - Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel.

"Any repatriation from inside prison walls cannot be considered a voluntarily repatriation," Pinchuk said. "It's not possible to talk about free will when a person is held in jail for a long time, with no release date on the horizon and no chance that his application for asylum will really be examined.

"Experience teaches that the goal of Immigration Authority bureaucrats is always the same - not to recognize the person as an asylum seeker and to pressure him to return to his country of origin. Therefore, the chances of a real process of examining the person's free will being conducted due to these guidelines are infinitesimal."

Weinstein announced his plan after meeting with representatives of residents of south Tel Aviv, an area where tens of thousands of African migrants live. They told him about problems the influx of migrants has caused, including residents' eroding sense of security. In his statement, Weinstein said he was aware of the difficult situation, and that the law enforcement agencies are doing everything they can.

Three months ago, Haaretz reported that the state had "voluntarily" repatriated about 1,000 Sudanese nationals via a third country, without informing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and in defiance of the agency's view that such repatriations would endanger the migrants' lives. The state also gave Eritrean nationals in the Saharonim detention center a choice between staying in jail for at least three years, as permitted under a law that took effect last year, or signing voluntary repatriation forms.

Until then, both Sudanese and Eritreans had enjoyed group protection in Israel on the grounds that repatriating them would endanger their lives.

UNHCR's local representative, William Tall, harshly criticized those repatriations. Like Pinchuk, he said there is no such thing as voluntary consent to repatriation under the threat of an extended stay in jail.

According to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, about 55,000 migrants who crossed the border illegally from Egypt were living in Israel as of March, more than 90 percent of them from Sudan and Eritrea. About 2,000 of these migrants are currently held at Saharonim.

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