Despite Israel’s Pledge, Refugees Over 67 Also Face Expulsion

Asylum seekers are being told in the notices for a pre-deportation hearing that their age is not a criterion that can prevent their deportation

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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D. His repeated appeals to the Population Bureau were unsuccessful; he could not submit a new asylum request.
D. His repeated appeals to the Population Bureau were unsuccessful; he could not submit a new asylum request.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Contrary to the state’s announcement two months ago that asylum seekers above Israeli retirement age (67) would be exempt from deportation, Haaretz has learned that men above that age have received notices of impending expulsion and face indefinite imprisonment.

>> Everything you need to know about Israel's mass deportation of asylum seekers

These asylum seekers were informed in the notices, which summon them for a pre-deportation hearing, that their age is not a criterion that can prevent their deportation.

“The above-mentioned is 68 years old with no children in Israel. His age is in keeping with the criteria set by the Immigration Authority and he is part of the population destined to be deported to third states,” authority officials wrote in the summary of a recent hearing for a 68-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea.

The man refused to be sent to one of the third states due to his age and medical condition and asked for the authorities’ help. An activist who accompanied him at the hearing said that deporting him to a third state would doom him to a life of hunger because of his slim chances of finding work and learning a new language and culture. But the Immigration Authority rejected these arguments and next month, when his visa expires, the asylum seeker is to be deported or imprisoned.

The asylum seeker, who is appealing the decision to deport him, was conscripted to the Eritrean army at the age of 35. During his service he was employed in digging, fighting and various other kinds of work. In 2008 he fled to Sudan and from there to Sinai, where, during his month-long stay, he experienced horrors that still keep him awake at night.

He paid Bedouin guides $3,000 to take him through Sinai to the Israeli border, and has been staying in the center of the country for 10 years. In the past three years he has been employed as a cleaner by the municipality where he lives for 5,000 shekels ($1,437) a month. Recently, however, it has become hard for him to work for eight hours a day due to his weakness and frail health and sometimes he misses a day.

Last month, when he went to the immigration authority office in Bnei Brak to renew his visa, he was summoned to a “hearing prior to a decision on deportation to a third state.”

He is not alone. Immigration Authority figures show there are 251 asylum seekers aged 61-80 in Israel, 211 of them Eritrean and 39 Sudanese. One man is 81 years old or older.

In January, authority director-general Shlomo Mor Yosef stated in an interview to the newspaper Makor Rishon that “only single men of working age would be deported.”

This is one of several cases in which men over 67 are about to be deported. The Immigration Authority told Haaretz that contrary to Mor Yosef’s assertion, men over working age are also slated for deportation. The only ones who are not to be deported at this point, the authority said in January, are women, minors, fathers of minors and human trafficking victims.

The authority told Haaretz it has made it clear several times who would be deported, that every deportee would be given a hearing, and that each case would be examined. It would not say whether its policy was in keeping with its director general’s statement not to deport men over working age.

Until January, the authority did not deport men over 60, did not imprison them at the Holot detention center, and they were eligible for a partial repayment of their “deposit” with the state of 20 percent of their wages.

The World Health Organization also classifies over 60 as old, but due to the conditions in Africa, people from there are seen as old already at the age of 50-55. In Israel the early retirement age for men is 60, though the official retirement age is 67.

Life expectancy in Israel is 80.6 years on average for men, compared to 60.9 in Rwanda and 60.3 in Uganda, according to WHO. The immigration authority would not say why these men were exempt from being incarcerated, but not from being expelled. It also refused to note the exact age the director general meant when he spoke of men of working age.

“It’s not clear why the considerations for exempting elderly asylum seekers from a year’s detention in Holot are not relevant when it comes to deportation, since indefinite imprisonment is now the only ‘alternative’ for deportation to a foreign country,” the 68-year-old asylum seeker said in an appeal against his deportation.

The appeal was filed by the Clinic for Migrants Rights at the College of Law & Business in Ramat Gan and the Clinic for the Rights of Holocaust Survivors and the Elderly at Tel Aviv University.

The appellant’s lawyers sent a letter to Mor Yosef and Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, saying, “If an old asylum seeker ‘chooses’ to leave for a third country, he will have difficulties due to his age. First, many old people need a supportive family, medical services and a community set up, and cannot work at all or in a limited manner. The cultural, social and lingual exile will be twice as hard for the elderly refugees, who won’t be able to acclimate and find work in a foreign land.”

Lawyers Sara Louise of the Ramat Gan migrants’ rights clinic and lawyer Yael Havassy-Aharoni of the Holocaust survivors’ rights clinic have filed three appeals for men over 60 who are slated for deportation. In all these cases the appeals court issued a temporary order forbidding the expulsion of the appellants until it hears the case.

On Wednesday the state told the appeals court that it objects to an interim order extending the appellant’s visa. The state said that in view of the High Court of Justice’s ruling last week, the forced deportation of asylum seekers will be suspended, but the hearing procedures can continue.

“It hasn’t been proved that the appellant will suffer irrevocable damage if his visa isn’t extended,” the state said.

Lawyer Nimrod Avigal of the Jewish refugee organization HIAS, who represents refugees in similar cases, said, “These are clear examples of flaws in the deportation decisions, which underscore the need for legal oversight of the process. We hope the court will make it clear that elderly people are not to be deported to an unknown future in countries that won’t protect them and deny the agreement to take them in.”

The High Court examined the legality of Israel’s agreements with the third countries in light of six conditions which the attorney general set for their approval. One of these was “a horizon for residency and the possibility of working and earning a living.”

But people over 60, and certainly people over 67, are highly unlikely to be able to find work.

Moreover, as far as is known, the agreements said nothing about health and welfare. Nor did Israel examine the state of the third countries’ health and welfare systems, and particularly how they dealt with the elderly, before signing these agreements.

A man of 68 with health problems is highly unlikely to be able to support himself in a strange African country whose language he doesn’t speak and where he knows nobody.

Lewis, the attorney, said the High Court’s August 2017 ruling, which approved deportations to a third country, dealt with deporting residents of the Holot open detention facility, who were all working-age single men.

“Therefore, the court’s ruling and the attorney general’s opinion that these third countries are ‘safe’ countries aren’t necessarily relevant to these population groups,” she said.

“The elderly we’ve dealt with are people who’ve been living in Israel for a decade and have residency permits,” she added. “During this decade, as they approached age 60 or 70, they developed illnesses common to age, like diabetes and cataracts. Thus throwing them into a third country whose language they don’t speak, where they don’t know anyone, with no commitment that they’ll receive even the most basic medical treatment, clearly isn’t ‘safe.’” 

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