Israel Slammed for Sending Asylum Seekers to Rwanda Without Status, Rights

MK convenes extraordinary session of Knesset committee following Haaretz report.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Migrants protest in Tel Aviv, demanding recognition as asylum seekers, January 9, 2014.
Migrants protest in Tel Aviv, demanding recognition as asylum seekers, January 9, 2014. Credit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The government is facing criticism after Haaretz discovered that African asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who agree to leave Israel voluntarily are being sent to Rwanda and Uganda without the benefit of official documentation or any guarantees of basic rights.

Asylum seekers who have been sent to these African countries have said that they do not receive any support from any government upon arrival, and that no one is doing anything to look after them.

About 10 days ago, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said 81 asylum seekers have voluntarily left Israel for African states. The government has refused to say which countries are taking in the asylum seekers or to disclose other details of its agreements with these states.

MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) will convene an extraordinary session of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, which she chairs, to discuss the agreements.

“Israel is responsible for the fate of the asylum seekers knocking on its door, but instead of defending them the government hastily and secretly sends them to third-party states without proper arrangements, leaving them to their fate. All this goes on under the radar, with no transparency or supervision,” Rosin said.

“These reports are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the reality and the ugly truths behind the prime minister and the interior minister’s boasts over the number of asylum seekers who leave ‘voluntarily,’” the director of Amnesty International Israel’s refugee campaign, Adi Drori-Avraham, said.

“The government issues the asylum seekers an ultimatum: either an indefinite prison sentence, or ‘leaving of their own volition.’ They are forced to choose the unknown, finding themselves in countries where ‘human rights’ is a dirty word, and where they won’t think twice to deport these peoples to the states from which they came, and where they’ll be subject to torture, prison without trial, or death. This is a gross violation of human rights treaties to which Israel is a party,” Drori-Avraham said.

Amnesty International said it has documentation of human rights violations in Rwanda and Uganda.“The secrecy surrounding the agreements is very troubling,” the executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Reut Michaeli, said. “Without information or guarantees that these states are providing protection and status for the asylum seekers, this is in effect a case of illegal deportation to Eritrea and Sudan, with a stop along the way.”

Michaeli added: “It is totally unclear if someone explained what they can expect in these countries before they leave, and if they were allowed to make an educated decision. The fact that asylum seekers are convinced and willing to leave to any place, and the fact that they left Israel, shows that they are under tremendous pressure – both within prison facilities and outside of them – which is against international law.”

The chairwoman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, Miri Regev (Likud), was abroad and could not be reached for comment. Her media advisor, Meir Suissa, said the matter will be examined.

Responding to an inquiry from Haaretz to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, a Justice Ministry official said: “Without disclosing the identities of the states involved, Israel reached agreements with two nations that have guaranteed the safety and security of individuals who chose to go there. The details of the arrangements were examined and approved by the Foreign Ministry and the attorney general.”

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