Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will decide on Wednesday whether to accede to the Supreme Court’s request that the state temporarily freeze its forcible deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to a third country, which is supposed to start on April 1. The court made this request because the state, at a hearing this week on petitions against the deportations filed by attorneys Eitay Mack and Avigdor Feldman, failed to submit an agreement with the third country (Rwanda).
Without such a document, the government’s attorney was unable to explain to the justices how an agreement whose very existence Rwanda denies can provide protection to the people deported to that country. “If there’s a violation, they can go to court there, and then they can submit the agreement. When it is said that there’s no agreement, what will they show there?” Justice Hanan Melcer asked the state’s representative, who declined to comment on the matter in open court, arguing that the information was secret.
The state has long claimed that it has secret agreements with Rwanda and Uganda to absorb deportees sent to those countries. Even the papers given the asylum seekers who are being told to go to Rwanda assert that they will receive “a residency permit that will enable you to work in the country and ensure your non-refoulement to your country of origin.” But Rwandan Deputy Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe said his country “never signed any secret deal with Israel regarding the relocation of African migrants.” Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem similarly denied the existence of an agreement.
Additional evidence that there’s no agreement to absorb the deportees was provided by articles in Haaretz. Asylum seekers said that immediately after they landed in Rwanda and Uganda, the documents they received in Israel were confiscated and they weren’t recognized as refugees. As a result, they had trouble finding work and a place to live.
Instead of protecting the asylum seekers, the government jails them and deports them to countries that haven’t assumed responibility for integrating them and won’t guarantee their welfare. The government hides this from the public by declaring relevant information classified on the ridiculous pretext that its publication would “undermine Israel’s foreign policy.”
The court gave the state two weeks to submit the agreement. But that demand isn’t enough. The state must also make the agreements public and prove that the asylum seekers are being deported to a country that will guarantee their safety. It must convince the public that this isn’t just a dubious deal which enables Israel to get rid of the asylum seekers.
Instead of evading its legal, moral and historical obligations, Israel must and can play an active role in dealing with the great global refugee crisis. If the state refuses to listen to the public protest against the deportations, perhaps it will consent to listen to the Supreme Court justices.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.