Israeli Doctors Implore Netanyahu: Don’t Deport African Asylum Seekers

Joining academics and pilots, hundreds of doctors wrote to Netanyahu that they could not 'stand by' while the future of their patients 'hangs in the balance'

African migrants demonstrate against the Israeli government outside the Rwanda embassy on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

Over 350 doctors have signed a letter demanding that the Israeli government halt the deportation of asylum seekers, most of whom came to Israel from Eritrea and Sudan.

There are currently about 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers in Israel, and another 5,000 children of asylum-seekers. Most of them have temporary residence permits, which they must renew every two months. Thousands of asylum seekers gathered on Monday in front of the Rwandan embassy to protest government efforts to deport them.

In their letter to Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director general of the Population and Immigration Authority, the doctors demanded a halt to the expulsions, writing that they “cannot stand by” while the fate of their patients “hangs in the balance,” and adding that their silence would be tantamount to consent to “harm among the most severe known to humanity.”

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Recently, the Population and Immigration Authority began telling Eritrean asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in the south that they must leave for Rwanda or be imprisoned indefinitely at the Saharonim prison. Last month a representative of the state prosecutor’s office told the High Court of Justice of plans to deport the asylum seekers, who for the most part entered the country by crossing over the Egyptian border before a border fence halted the flow.

The signatories to the letter included a former Health Ministry director general, Dr. Eitan Hai- Am; the current director of Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Yitzhak Berlovich; the deputy director of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Prof. Raphael Walden; as well as dozens of senior hospital department heads and other medical professionals, including nurses and social workers.

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They wrote that they recoil from the idea that, instead of taking the asylum seekers in with the view that they are victims “who have come to us in their flight from genocide, torture, violence and rape,” the country was “sentencing them to continued harm.” They also criticized the government’s plans for allegedly not providing an exception for the sick, the weak and the most vulnerable. The letter was initiated by the group Physicians for Human Rights.

Among others who have publicly opposed the expulsion of the asylum seekers have been school principals, filmmakers and hundreds of professors and intellectuals. Several pilots from El Al Israel Airlines announced that they would refuse to fly asylum seekers out of the country, although El Al has no plans to do so. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been flown to Rwanda on foreign airlines through Jordan, Turkey and Ethiopia.

In their letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the school principals wrote in part: “We, who are responsible for educating boys and girls of all ages and teaching the ethical and constitutional foundations on which the State of Israel was founded urge you to halt the deportation of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to countries where they face torture, suffering and death — and find a humane solution for them in Israel, along with a solution to the needs and distress of all residents of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv,” referring to the area with the highest concentration of asylum seekers.