Under cover of the uproar caused by Netanyahu’s police cases, on the margins of public attention, an act of national injustice is continuing: the expulsion of asylum seekers. Civic opposition to the deportations hasn’t helped, despite a plethora of petitions – from artists and intellectuals, from restaurateurs who employ asylum seekers and from pilots who are supposed to fly them out against their will. Nor has testimony about the fate awaiting those deported to a third country in Africa stopped the deportation train, which continues to ignore basic moral values, the UN Refugee Convention, international standards, economic logic and now, also a ruling by an Israeli court.
Last week, an appellate custody tribunal overruled the state’s position and said that asylum requests base on desertion from the Eritrean army can’t be rejected out of hand. Service in this army is known internationally to constitute slavery (which includes imprisonment without trial, torture and religious persecution). The tribunal recognized that deserting Eritrea’s army can at times amount to resisting the regime, and therefore results in political persecution – something that justifies granting refugee status under the Refugee Convention. In light of this ruling, Israel must immediately stop expelling people and reconsider the thousands of asylum requests that it rejected on this basis.
Despite the court’s ruling, 16 Eritreans held at the Holot open detention facility were ordered this week to leave the country immediately for Rwanda, or else return to their own country. When they refused, they were sent to Saharonim Prison, where they will be held indefinitely. Holot’s 700 inmates began a hunger strike in protest.
But these protests are destined to fall on deaf ears. The prime minister’s battle for survival is occupying most of the public’s attention, and in any case the government has presented the deportations in a demagogic, populist manner – not merely as a legitimate action aimed at dangerous lawbreakers who aren’t entitled to any special protection, but also as a step aimed at making life easier for Israel’s poor.
This is a crude lie, and it is important to refute it. To ease the distress of residents of south Tel Aviv, there’s no need of deportations. With a little good will, Israel could instead disperse the asylum seekers throughout the country – thereby saving itself millions of shekels – and let them work and live with dignity until they can return safely to their own homes.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.