Listen to the Asylum Seekers and Change the Policy

The asylum seekers deported to Africa have made clear they're being abandoned. Israel can't just send them there to suffer

A Sudanese asylum seeker deported to Uganda in what Israel calls 'voluntary departure'
עוזי דן

“This isn’t my place, I can’t work,” said a Sudanese asylum seeker deported to Uganda in what Israel calls a “voluntary departure,” which isn’t really voluntary because the other choice is being jailed indefinitely. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t be in Israel. I hope they won’t deport others. Here it’s much worse.”

“I don’t understand how Jews can do such a thing,” added another Sudanese asylum seeker deported from Israel, as reported by Haaretz's Uzi Dann. “Everyone in the world knows what happened to the Jews .... Your government is throwing away all that history.”

The statements Dann obtained from deported asylum seekers in Kampala, Uganda join previously published testimony that describes a similar pattern. Upon arriving in Rwanda or Uganda, the asylum seekers’ documents are confiscated, while the migrants don’t receive legal status.

They can’t work, and Israeli representatives don’t stay in contact with them, all contrary to what they were promised. And if all that weren’t enough to understand the gravity of Israel’s policy, on Friday experts from the UN Human Rights Council testified that Israeli policy violates international law.

Right now, around 20,000 of the 34,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are being forced to choose between being deported and being jailed indefinitely. Recently, seven Eritreans chose jail out of fear of returning to the continent from which they fled for their lives.

To protest their imprisonment, some 700 asylum seekers from the Holot detention facility began a hunger strike, which has since ended. Their demand that the deportations be canceled has been joined by many Israelis, of whom about 20,000 demonstrated in Tel Aviv last week. Many more have signed petitions condemning the deportations.

The government remains unmoved while throwing around populist and demagogic claims about the asylum seekers. But in reality there’s a solution to the asylum-seeker problem that could benefit all sides and is far simpler and more humane than deportation.

Israel must free the seven jailed Eritreans, immediately shelve its “voluntary departure” plan, disperse the asylum seekers throughout Israel to ease the pressure on neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv and grant the migrants work permits for industries that are crying out for workers.

That plan suits the history of the Jewish people, and it’s also the right one from a humanitarian standpoint. Moreover, Israel would show that it’s assuming its share of responsibility as an equal member of the family of nations while, with other developed countries, bearing the burden of this era’s international refugee crisis.

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