Israel's Top Court Temporarily Halts Asylum Seeker Deportations

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An African migrant walks outside the Holot detention centre in the Negev desert. March 13, 2018.
An African migrant walks outside the Holot detention centre in the Negev desert. March 13, 2018.Credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The High Court of Justice on Thursday temporarily halted the deportation of asylum-seekers to Rwanda and Uganda.

The court order came in response to a petition submitted by human rights activists against the government’s plan to deport some 40,000 African asylum seekers to “third countries,” reported to be Rwanda and Uganda.

At a hearing on Monday, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut had asked the state to reexamine its agreements with Rwanda and Uganda and ascertain if they were confidential. On Thursday the judges decided to freeze the deportations until they decide on the case.

Justice Hanan Melcer had said at Monday’s hearing that the denial by these “third countries” that they made any agreement with Israel to take in asylum seekers who’d left Israel involuntarily could be a problem for the deportees. He said such an agreement was necessary to protect the asylum seekers in the countries they were being sent.

“If the agreement is broken, they could go to court there and present the agreement. But when the authorities say there’s no agreement, what will they show there?” Melcer asked the prosecution, without naming the states.

The court also ruled that the authorities will not be able to imprison any more asylum seekers in Saharonim Prison until further ruling on the matter. However, those who agree to leave Israel “voluntarily” will be able to do so. The asylum-seekers already imprisoned in Saharonim will not be released during this period.

Several asylum seekers who were deported to Rwanda and Uganda have told Haaretz that as soon as they landed there, the documents they had been given in Israel were taken away from them. They were not recognized as refugees and it was difficult to find housing and work.

The state had planned to deport the first group of asylum seekers at the beginning of next month. The authorities were planning to arrest and imprison asylum seekers who didn’t leave, and fine their employers.

Leaflets distributed to asylum seekers said that the $3,500 grant given to those who agreed to leave would be reduced gradually. The leaflets said asylum seekers who were forced to go to Rwanda would receive a visa enabling them to work there and ensure they wouldn’t be deported to their country of origin.

The Holot prison in the Negev closed down on Wednesday, after having interned thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers over the past four years. The closure is part of the state’s expulsion campaign.

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