Israel Must Reveal and Reverse Cruel Policies on Refugees

Rather than concealing, lying and spending fortunes on immoral workarounds, the state should take in asylum seekers and let them work and live with dignity

Asylum seekers register with immigration police in Ben Gurion Airport as part of 'voluntary' deportation.

There is no limit to the moral descention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regarding asylum seekers. It’s not enough that it launched a campaign for the “voluntary” departure of some 37,000 asylum seekers and their 5,000 Israeli-born children (those who do not “volunteer” face a lifetime in prison). At the request of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Netanyahu has ordered forcible deportation plans drawn up to avoid overcrowding in Israeli prisons. Now it seems that Rwanda and Uganda are denying that they have agreed to take in asylum seekers from Israel. It’s no coincidence that the state “concealed” these agreements from the public.

According to Olivier Nduhungirehe, a Rwanda deputy foreign minister, “There were negotiations like these three or four years ago between the two countries but we never concluded on the matter” (as reported by The Associated Press Friday).

His denial followed remarks by Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo in November. Although she said her country was prepared to accept some 10,000 African asylum seekers from Israel, on condition that “they are comfortable to come here,” she noted that the states had yet to reach a final agreement and that talks were continuing on how to guarantee the refugees’ welfare in Rwanda. Mushikiwabo said this a month after Netanyahu announced that he had changed the agreement with Rwanda to allow Israel to deport asylum seekers to that country even against their will.

Uganda also denies that it has an agreement with Israel. “We have no agreement with the Israeli government to send refugees from other countries that are in Israel to Uganda. We are baffled with the reports,” Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello, told Uganda’s Daily Monitor website.

Israel’s renunciation of its duties to the asylum seekers will be remembered as a disgrace. The attempt to shirk its responsibility by making agreements with third countries smacks of racism, even if it is made legal by tricks. All the more so because the testimonies of asylum seekers who have been sent to Rwanda under the “voluntary departure” program describe suffering that proves that Rwanda is not a safe state, as Israel claims. Now, on top of everything, it turns out there isn’t even an agreement.

The government must disclose to the public what deals it has made, if any, with Rwanda and Uganda. Instead of concealing, lying and spending fortunes on immoral workarounds, the state should take in the asylum seekers and let them work and live with dignity, which will go a long way toward alleviating the distress of the residents of south Tel Aviv. Moreover, this cruel deportation plan is being implemented even as Tourism Minister Yariv Levin considers bringing in Filipinos to work in hotels and restaurants, as reported by TheMarker. Israel’s policy is thus not only cruel, but stupid.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.