Israeli Court Clears Way to Force Asylum Seekers to Resettle

If migrants refuse to move to Uganda or Rwanda, the state has the right to jail them in a detention facility indefinitely.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility in the Negev.
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

An Israeli court has denied a petition challenging the detention of asylum seekers who do not wish to be resettled in Uganda or Rwanda. The government has ordered the migrants to be resettled there or be detained in Israel indefinitely.

Still, the Be’er Sheva District Court recommended that the government delay its relocation policy until more information was available on the monitoring of resettled asylum seekers. Many of the migrants are from Eritrea and Sudan.

The court decision effectively backs the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers to another country. Rights groups have warned that thousands of asylum seekers could be sent to Israeli detention centers due to the migrants’ refusal to be sent to Uganda or Rwanda, where there is evidence of human rights abuses.

Human rights groups filed the petition for two Eritreans being held at the Holot detention center, one of two such detention centers in the south. The two Eritreans had refused to go to Rwanda and were told they would be held at the other detention center, Saharonim, until further notice.

Soon after Haaretz reported in March on the population authority’s policy of relocation to Rwanda and Uganda, dozens of relocation orders were issued. Asylum seekers were told they would be held at Saharonim indefinitely if they did not agree to be sent to Rwanda or Uganda.

The government, however, delayed in jailing migrants who refused to leave for Africa, and when it finally did act, legal proceedings held up the effort.

The petition that was discussed Monday was filed by two lawyers from the refugee rights clinic at Tel Aviv University’s law school.

Judge Rachel Lavi-Barkai ruled that there was no legal basis for denying the relocation of the two Eritreans to Rwanda or imprisoning anyone who refused. But she added that the procedure involved the “erosion of the principle of ‘free will’” and included an element of coercion.

Still, she said the petitioners had not met the burden of proof in arguing that their liberty and well-being would be jeopardized in Rwanda or Uganda. Evidence on the fate of asylum seekers who agreed to be resettled did not prove that they were subject to abuse or persecution, she ruled.

A lawyer for the state said asylum seekers being relocated would be provided more information than in the past, including a telephone number for further information. Those being resettled would also provide the Israelis contact information so that follow-up could be done within 30 days of the relocation to determine how the asylum seekers were faring.

Also, the transit document would remain with the asylum seeker, rather than with the authorities of Rwanda or Uganda, until the migrants received a permit to remain there.

Israel has also committed to arrange orientation sessions for asylum seekers on their arrival and to be in contact with the government of the country taking them in. But rights groups involved in the petition said the court did not give sufficient weight to the evidence.

They said the court was letting a policy proceed that had no counterpart in other countries. They said it subjected asylum seekers already sent to Rwanda to serious harm, with the Africans placed in a closed compound and told their only alternative was flight to Uganda.

Judge Lavi-Barkai also commented on the secrecy surrounding the arrangements with Rwanda and Uganda and the order by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barring disclosure of the arrangements in court. She said transparency in oversight would prevent human-rights violations in the asylum seekers’ new countries.

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