Israel Can Now Deport African Asylum Seekers Without Their Consent

A diplomatic agreement between Netanyahu and Rwanda's president would help circumvent a Supreme Court ruling viewed as sympathetic to migrants' rights

Eritrean asylum seekers, who entered Israel illegally during the past years, hold placards showing their compatriots who they say were killed after being deported to Eritrea, during a protest against Israel's deportation policy in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

Israel will now be able to deport asylum-seekers, even if they do not give their consent. The new policy comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made changes to the agreement Israel had signed with Rwanda. Israel has never named the countries to which it deports asylum-seekers, but they have long been known to be Rwanda and Uganda. The agreement with Uganda has so far remained unchanged.

Following the change, the government has now ceased its efforts to pass a law that would bypass the High Court of Justice ruling and prohibiting employers from hiring asylum-seekers who refuse to be deported.

Two months ago, an expanded panel of five Supreme Court justices, headed by Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, ruled that asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan could be deported to a third country, but they could not be detained for more than 60 days if they refused. It was apparent from the ruling that Rwanda and Uganda had refused to accept those deported without their consent. The justices made it clear that in such situations, the government could not view the refusal to leave Israel as a lack of cooperation with authorities in removing them, and they therefore could not be detained indefinitely.

Immediately after the ruling was released, Interior Minister Arye Dery instructed the Population, Immigration and Border Authority in his ministry to prepare an amendment to the law to bypass the Supreme Court decision and allow detaining asylum-seekers for an unlimited period if they refuse to leave Israel for a third country. Netanyahu supported the move but no draft version of the amendment has been circulated so far.

Dery also announced a few days later that he planned to ban African asylum-seekers who refuse to leave Israel from being employed in the country. The Immigration Authority said at the time that the interior minister had the authority to make the decision and it did not require new legislation, but this step has not made any progress so far either.

Human rights organizations have attacked the changes in the agreements with Uganda and Rwanda. If these agreements that allow the deportation of asylum-seekers to a third country have been signed, it is a step that has no precedent in its severity, said a joint statement released by a number of groups. The information that has accumulated in recent years proves time after time that asylum-seekers deported from Israel, supposedly voluntarily, have not found shelter and safety in the countries they were deported to. The opposite is true: The deportees were forced to continue on their journey while endangering their lives and many met their deaths.

At least 80 percent of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers are recognized as refuges, but Israel has granted refugee status to only 10 asylum-seekers. This exposes the lie and great disgrace of the governments policy, the organizations said, adding that the state is not interested in examining the asylum requests and does everything possible to reject them and deport every last refugee, even at the cost of human lives.