The state has reached agreements with two African countries to take in asylum seekers and has begun to implement the agreements, the State Prosecutor’s Office told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.
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In responding to a petition by human rights groups against the amendment to the law on illegal entry into Israel, the state told the court that 72 asylum seekers have so far left Israel for those two countries. The state refuses to reveal the names of the countries, but said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy on the matter, Hagai Hadas, had “only approached countries that were in a position that allowed safe exit to them.”
The state also said that the attorney general has been kept informed of these arrangements and has approved them. The State Prosecutor’s Office said it would reveal more about the arrangements to the justices behind closed doors because the countries involved had requested that their identity not be revealed.
Three weeks ago Haaretz reported that the Israel had begun flying dozens of asylum seekers secretly to Uganda, among them citizens of Sudan who were incarcerated at Saharonim detention center. According to the United Nations, incarcerated individuals cannot be considered to be acting out of free will, and so flying them directly from detention out of the country is improper.
It is currently unclear what arrangements, if any, the state has reached with third countries, as Uganda has denied the existence of such an arrangement with Israel.
In its response to the High Court, the state also revealed for the first time the breakdown of nationalities of the asylum seekers leaving Israel in recent months through the procedure known as “voluntary departure.”
According to these figures, from the beginning of December to the end of February, 2,989 Africans have left Israel, among them 2,650 Sudanese, 189 Eritreans and 150 citizens of other African countries.
According to the state, the Population and Immigration Authority has interviewed 980 of the 1,468 Eritreans who filed requests for asylum, accepting two and rejecting 444. Out of 1,373 Sudanese asylum seekers, the state has interviewed 505 and has responded to only nine requests, rejecting them all.
The state’s representative said that of the 1,514 asylum seekers who had been instructed to report by March 2 to the so-called open detention center at Holot in the Negev, 708 had done so – 46 percent. Together with asylum seekers sent directly from Saharonim to Holot, there are 918 asylum seekers at Holot. Another 105 people left the facility and did not return.
The state prosecutors told the High Court that 179 detainees had applied for jobs at the Holot detention center, as the law allows, and 78 had been hired to work there. In their statement to the court, state prosecutors said that the amendment in question was “constitutional, it has balance between the essential interests of the state and the rights of tens of thousands of residents of Africa who infiltrated the State of Israel in recent years.”
The state told the court its policies were guided by the “clear distinction that must be made between ‘labor migrants’ and those for whom the claim of asylum is based on one of the foundations of the Refugee Convention.”