UN Human Rights Experts: Israel's Plan to Deport African Asylum Seekers Violates International Law

'By singling out Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, the policy clearly breaches the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin,' expert says

Asylum seekers outside the Population & Immigration authority office in Bnei Brak, February, 2018
Tomer Appelbaum

Experts working under the United Nations Humans Rights Council said Thursday that Israel's plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese nationals violates international human rights and refugee laws, calling on the Israeli government to immediately halt and revise the policy and its implementation. 

"Under the policy, tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals - who are among the largest groups of foreign nationals seeking refuge in Israel - will be forcibly sent to unnamed third countries," the statement read. The Israeli government began issuing deportation notices on February 4. So far, seven Eritreans have been jailed indefinitely for refusing deportation.

While Israel's new policy includes temporary exemptions to migrants belonging to specifically vulnerable groups, the UN experts believe these may be annulled, thus including children, families and those with pending asylum claims.

E. Tendayi Achiume, the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said she was deeply concerned the policy explicitly targets individuals from sub-Saharan Africa.

"By singling out Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, the policy clearly breaches the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin,” she said.

Regarding the use of the term "illegal infiltrators" by Israeli public officials to describe non-citizens, Achiume said “the use of such terms reinforces and further legitimizes discriminatory public discourse and racist attitudes towards migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa.” 

The experts are also noted alarm that the policy foresees the indefinite detention of those who refuse to leave Israel. “The detention of migrants should be an exceptional measure of last resort."

In light of the secrecy surrounding third-country destinations, the experts expressed concern that returnees might not be afforded adequate and effective protection.

“We call on Israel to respect the absolute prohibition of refoulement, which entails an obligation not to return a person, whatever their status, to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that the individual would be at risk of being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or other serious human rights violations,” they said.

The experts also noted the lack of sufficient guarantees ensuring that Eritreans and Sudanese are not deported from third countries to their country of origin.

The experts recalled that the principle of non-refoulement applies to all people, regardless of when or how they arrived in the country and regardless of whether or not they qualify as refugees or asylum seekers.

“Moreover, Israel has a legal obligation to ensure that no arbitrary or collective expulsions occur in its territory.

“Any policy of deporting people that fails to provide for due process safeguards, case-by-case risk assessments, and adequate protection measures is in violation of international law and potentially exposes individuals to further human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture,” the experts stressed.

Israel and the United States have been critical in the past of the UN human rights council, which includes – among other countries - Saudi Arabia, Iraq and China. They have claimed the council discriminates against Israel in its decisions.

Last week, 20,000 Israelis protested against the deportation in southern Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, Eritreans in the Holot detention facility began a hunger strike following the arrest of seven Eritreans refusing deportation. Several other demonstrations by asylum seekers took place this month, the largest among them being a march from Holot to Saharonim Prison