The Israeli authorities have no method in place for deporting thousands of African asylum seekers against their will, sources involved in the matter told Haaretz, putting in question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s instructions that plans be drawn up for the migrants’ expulsion.
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The sources said it was highly unlikely that a decision would be made to force people onto planes against their will. Such a step would require complex logistics, the cooperation of a large number of agencies, a hefty budget and the recruiting and training of many people.
Also, Rwanda, the only country to where Israel has permission to deport asylum seekers against their will, could refuse to cooperate with deportations done by force. If Israel decided to implement such a plan, human rights groups would be expected to go to court to try to stop it, and the court would probably halt the expulsions until legal proceedings were completed – which could be a long time.
Reports and pictures of African migrants being led to flights against their would probably stir criticism around the world.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu told National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat to craft plans for asylum seekers’ deportation.
“The infiltrators have a simple choice. Either cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use the other means at our disposal, which are also in accordance with the law. I hope they choose to cooperate,” Netanyahu said.
“Every country has an obligation to protect its borders. Protecting the borders from illegal infiltration is both the right and the fundamental obligation of a sovereign country. For this purpose we have taken two good steps.”
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority told the cabinet that it was incapable of handling mass involuntary deportations.
So far, some possibilities examined include encouraging deportation via cash grants while threatening indefinite detention. But following a request by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the cabinet decided to consider involuntary deportation – the deportee would be accompanied on a flight by immigration inspectors and perhaps even be handcuffed.
There was also a fear that indefinite detention would prove expensive and lead to a shortage of space in state prisons.
On Monday, the first day of 2018, the population authority began calling for Eritrean and Sudanese citizens living in Israel to leave within three months if they were to avoid possible detention for an indefinite period.
The authority says that as of April, enforcement will begin against anyone required to leave and their employers. Asylum seekers who do not leave will be placed in detention and their employers will be fined. The $3,500 grant to those leaving the country will be gradually reduced.
In the first stage, certain groups will be exempted from deportation: children, adults over 60, parents of dependent minor children, people with serious physical- or mental-health problems, and victims of human trafficking and slavery. People in these groups are also exempt from being sent to the Holot detention center in the Negev.
For now, people who have applied for refugee status but have not received a response will also be allowed to stay.
So far, only in exceptional cases has Israel deported foreigners by force and against their will. In these cases, after their continued refusal to leave the country, they have been accompanied by population authority inspectors, who have accompanied them on the flights to Africa. Only rarely have the expellees been handcuffed.
Airlines have been hesitant to cooperate with such expulsions, in part due to concerns of disturbances on the flights. Mass involuntary deportation may require complicated coordination with the airlines. Another possibility is leasing a plane especially for deportations, though this is not considered likely.
A month ago, German pilots refused to fly Afghani citizens who were being deported from Germany back to Afghanistan. In response to a parliamentary question, the German government said the pilots stopped the deportation of 222 asylum seekers between January and September last year.
A spokesman for German airline Lufthansa said its pilots made their decisions on each case individually.
An estimated 27,000 Eritreans live in Israel, as well as 7,500 Sudanese and 2,500 people from other African countries. Some 5,000 children have been born to African asylum seekers in Israel.