Israel Must Stop the Deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum Seekers

After 'voluntary departure' program failed to bring desired results, Israel has now begun a program of forced deportations to Rwanda and Uganda.

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

Israel is continuing its attempts to get rid of the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in its territory by any means possible. Instead of treating them humanely, as required by both international law and basic justice, it is trying to embitter their lives so they will leave. After its “voluntary departure” program — which was never truly voluntary — failed to bring the desired results, Israel has now begun a program of forced deportations to Rwanda and Uganda.

Beyond the goal of the deportations themselves, this program seeks to circumvent the High Court of Justice’s ruling that asylum seekers cannot be imprisoned without trial for long periods at the Saharonim and Holot detention centers. Even though the court’s latest ruling didn’t completely rule out the possibility of detaining people at Holot, it did order that the duration of such detentions be shortened.

It’s regrettable that the Be’er Sheva District Court, sitting as the court for administrative affairs, fell down on the job on Monday by rejecting a petition filed by groups assisting asylum seekers against the indefinite detention of those who refuse to go to Rwanda and Uganda. The court didn’t give sufficient weight to the multitude of testimony about the wretched condition of asylum seekers who have already been sent to those countries.

Judge Rachel Lavi-Barkai wrote that there is no barrier to deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda or to jailing those who refuse to leave, because “the petitioners didn’t meet the burden of proving that these third countries are countries where their freedom and well-being are endangered.” She even asserted that “it’s possible to conclude with a high level of certainty that ... they chose of their own free will not to obtain [legal] status in that third country and trespassed into a different country of their accord.”

What the judge failed to take into account is that the state is seeking to transfer asylum seekers to destinations that are decidedly vague when it comes to protecting the deportees and their rights, and that reports on the condition of the asylum seekers who are already there are troubling and far from complying with basic legal and moral standards. Israel treats the asylum seekers as if they were human garbage that can be thrown from one place to another, in exchange for an unknown payment and pursuant to an agreement whose content is concealed from the public.

The Be’er Sheva court’s ruling upholds the state’s fundamental policy, the core of which is a complete abdication of responsibility for the refugee problem, a global issue that many countries are trying to solve. Israel would have no real difficulty absorbing the asylum seekers who are already here and integrating them officially and legally into the job market, especially now that the fence in the south has been constructed.

But even if it wants to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, the state is obligated to publicize the agreements it has reached on this issue and to send an organized delegation, including representatives of refugee rights groups, that will seriously investigate the conditions in which those who have already been deported to these countries are living. Until then, the deportation program and its accompanying detentions must be halted.