Israel Should Stop Harassing Asylum Seekers

The country’s 'voluntary departure’ program puts people’s lives at risk.

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

The asylum seeker from Sudan who left Israel “voluntarily” for fear of being detained at the Holot detention center finds himself back in Israel. He was stuck at the airport in Addis Ababa for eight days. His case highlights the extent to which the state’s plan, presented at the High Court of Justice as “exit routes,” is full of holes, some of them moral. It shows how poor the plan is for dealing with asylum seekers.

This asylum seeker in question agreed to leave Israel only after facing imprisonment at Holot, in exchange for a promise that he would be received by a third country. He only found out where he was going on his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where he was told he was headed for Ethiopia.

Upon arrival he was forbidden to leave the airport and was informed by Ethiopian immigration officials that he had to board a flight to Sudan, from where he had fled after a murderous attack on his village. He refused to go to Sudan, fearing he would be killed there.

Despite his repeated requests during those eight days at the airport, he was not visited by officials from the UN Refugee Agency. Thanks to the intervention of Israel’s asylum-seeker community, who appealed to the UN Refugee Agency in Addis Ababa, he was not deported to Sudan. He was returned to Israel and sent to the Holot detention center.

This case proves the infeasibility of “voluntary departure,” for which the state tried to win approval from the High Court of Justice during a debate on the Prevention of Infiltration Law. This strategy is not supported by any agreement protecting the people involved. Actually, it puts their lives at risk.

Israel is well aware of the risks facing asylum seekers in their countries of origin and does not dare return them there. Instead, it transfers them to obscure agencies without the backing of an official agreement. Even if such agreements are made, they contravene international laws and treaties.

Giving asylum seekers two bad choices — imprisonment or deportation to countries where their lives are at risk — has made Israel another country that endangers them. It’s unfortunate that such a moral lapse, embodied in inhumane and racist policies, doesn’t seem to perturb policy makers like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar. Hopefully the High Court of Justice, which is about to decide on a petition against the Prevention of Infiltration Law, will stop the harassment of asylum seekers.

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