A group of El Al pilots declared on Facebook in recent days they will not fly African asylum seekers to Rwanda if they are being forcibly deported from Israel.
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However, this statement will not affect planned deportations since El Al doesn’t actually operate flights to Rwanda. To date, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been flown to Rwanda on foreign airlines through Jordan, Turkey and Ethiopia.
One of the pilots, Iddo Elad, wrote, “I’ve joined many of my colleagues in declaring that I will not fly refugees to their deaths. I will not be a partner to such barbarism.”
A second pilot, Shaul Betzer, stated: “There is no way that I, as part of a flight crew, would participate in taking refugees/asylum seekers to a destination where their chances of surviving (in a ‘third country’) are minuscule.”
And a third pilot, Yoel Piterbarg, wrote, “Refugees who are already living among us cannot be thrown away like stray dogs back to their countries, where suffering, rape of women and girls, and agonizing death awaits them – places like South Sudan and other African countries. Let the refugees remain here and be taken care of immediately, as human beings. Just like the Jews were refugees once, wanting to be cared for and not thrown out.”
Piterbarg added, “I will not fly refugees being deported against their will, even if only for the legal reason (there is no other) that they might endanger flight safety.”
Rwanda and Uganda are both reportedly ‘third countries’ to which the Israeli government plans to deport some 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have entered Israel illegally since the 2000s.
The Zazim community action group reported that some 7,500 citizens have appealed to pilots in recent days not to cooperate with the planned deportations. They said members of the public wrote personal letters to the Israel Aviation Association, the Israel Pilots Association and companies that provide ground services to international airlines at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The activists called on pilots and ground crews to refuse to fly refugees to any African countries where their lives would be in danger.
On Monday, thousands of asylum seekers demonstrated in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, protesting the planned deportations. Some of the signs stated: “Deportation to Rwanda – death sentence”; “From asylum seeker in Rwanda to merchandise in Libya” and “Black Lives Matter – not in Israel.”
El Al said in response to its pilots’ comments that “El Al is not required by the state to fly refugees.”