Israel: Deportation of African asylum-seekers is a cruel and misguided abandonment of responsibility
Israel’s policy of deporting African asylum-seekers to two unnamed African countries is an abdication of its responsibility to refugees and an example of the vicious political measures feeding the “global refugee crisis”, Amnesty International said today as the Israeli Supreme Court considers new evidence on the legality of the policy.
Israel has allegedly reached agreements with two countries – widely understood to be Uganda and Rwanda. The terms of the agreements are classified.
Under the government’s new “Procedure for Deportation to Third Countries”, launched in January, those who agree to leave are given US$3,500 and a ticket to either their country of origin or an unnamed “third country”. Those who refuse face indefinite detention. The Israeli government claims the scheme facilitates “voluntary departures” of “infiltrators”.
“How can the Israeli government possibly describe this as a way of deporting asylum-seekers ‘voluntarily’ when the alternatives are returning to persecution or indefinite detention? This is not a choice anyone should have to make,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The forced – and illegal – deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers is a reckless abandonment of responsibility. This is an example of the ill-thought-out policies that have fed the so-called global refugee crisis.”
Under the policy of the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Eritrean and Sudanese male “infiltrators” are required to leave Israel by 4 April. The “Procedure for Deportation to Third Countries” is based on the premise that the deportees either never sought asylum and have lived in Israel irregularly, or sought asylum but did not qualify for it. Those who submitted their application after 1 January will be deported as well.
The Israeli government has not provided details of the agreements, including the identity of the “third countries”, which it considers to be confidential and potentially harmful to Israel’s international reputation. Rwanda and Uganda have denied the existence of the agreements, despite the testimonies of those deported there.
Israel boasts one of the highest gross domestic products (GDPs) in the world, making it one of the most prosperous and wealthy countries in the Middle East region.
“There is an onus of responsibility on the Israeli government to protect the world’s refugees and accept asylum seekers in desperate need of a home. It beggars belief that the Israeli authorities are now foisting their responsibility on countries who have only a fraction of the wealth and resources and their own much larger refugee populations,” said Philip Luther.
Israel’s GDP per capita is more than 50 times that of Rwanda and more than 55 times that of Uganda. Rwanda hosts at least three times more refugees than Israel, and Uganda’s refugee population is more than 20 times that of Israel.
Israel’s deportations to Rwanda and Uganda are illegal
The agreements between Israel and the unnamed African countries, whatever their identity, are illegal under international law as they violate the prohibition of non-refoulement. This is the prohibition against transferring anyone to a place where they would be at real risk of persecution and other serious human rights violations, or where they would not be protected against such a transfer later.
Upon arrival in Rwanda or Uganda, deportees quickly find that the Israeli promise of residence papers in the third country was empty. They therefore find themselves in an irregular migration status, which leaves them at risk of forcible return to their country of origin.
Many of those deported under the policy have little choice but to continue their journey through Libya and attempt dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean to Europe.
“This policy has put the asylum-seekers in an extremely vulnerable position as they are exposed to the risk of being sent back to their country of origin and cannot hold the Israeli government, or the government of the third country, to account,” said Philip Luther.
“We have documented several cases of asylum-seekers deported from Israel who were promised residency and work permits in Uganda and Rwanda, only to find that none of this was available upon arriving in the new country.”
In fact, none of the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers deported to Rwanda and Uganda – and later interviewed by NGOs, academics and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) – were granted regular status upon arrival.
Rwanda and Uganda have not only denied the presence of asylum-seekers arriving from Israel in their territory; they have also refused to acknowledge any duty towards them by denying that any agreement with Israel exists.
Israel turns its back on asylum-seekers and refugees – the shocking stats
Israel’s acceptance rate of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seeker claims is extremely low: less than 0.5%. Out of 15,200 asylum applications submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers between 2013 and 2017, only 12 have been recognized as refugees.
Over the past decade, only 0.1% of Eritrean asylum-seekers have been recognized as refugees in Israel. By comparison, the rate of recognition of Eritrean nationals who applied for refugee status in the EU in 2016 was 92.5%.
The main reason for the dramatically low recognition rate of Eritrean asylum-seekers is that Israel does not consider deserters from the Eritrean military service to qualify for refugee status. This goes against the eligibility guidelines issued by UNHCR.
In January 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court found the Israeli government’s interpretation of the protection needs of deserters from the Eritrean military service to be incompatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention. On 22 March, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber instructed the Population, Immigration and Border Authority to re-examine the cases of Eritreans held in Saharonim Prison whose claims for asylum had been rejected. However, the practical effects of these measures remain to be seen.
“The Israeli government must immediately halt the deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to Rwanda and Uganda and grant them access to a fair and effective refugee status determination procedure. Meanwhile, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda must immediately cease any co-operation with the Israeli government on this issue,” said Philip Luther.
“The Israeli authorities need to know that the world is watching with outrage at their brazen disregard for human life, dignity and responsibility to the wider global community.”
Published on Amnesty International on March 26, 2018
By Ilan Lior
Around 20,000 Israelis gathered alongside African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv to protest against the Israeli government's policy of deportations and imprisonment of the asylum seekers.
The protest took place in south Tel Aviv, where most of the city's asylum seekers live, and local residents have long complained about their presence there.
Protesters carried signs reading, "No to deportation," "We're all humans" and "Refugees and residents refuse to be enemies."
Togod Omer Adam, an asylum seeker from Sudan, spoke at the protest. "We did not choose to come here to south Tel Aviv. When people arrive at the border [between Israel and Egypt], they give you a one-way ticket to the central bus station in Tel Aviv."
He said that he understands the difficult situation this has created in south Tel Aviv, saying, "We are all victims in this story – the older Israelis residents and we, the asylum seekers. We all live here and for so long they have tried to make us fear one another."
Earlier this week, Israel began jailing citizens of African countries for refusing to leave of their own accord.
On Tuesday night, all asylum seekers at the Holot detention center began a hunger strike in response. Earlier in the day, seven Eritreans who held at Holot were summoned for pre-deportation hearings. After they refused to leave the country for either Eritrea or Rwanda, they were immediately transported to Saharonim Prison, apparently due to fear they would flee.
Two of the men survived torture in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula en route Israel, but their asylum requests were denied.
In line with new rules issued by the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, they will be held at Saharonim indefinitely unless they change their minds.
Hundreds of asylum seekers marched from Holot to Saharonim on Thursday in protest of the government's policies.
Published on Haaretz on February 24, 2018
A Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision has won his Supreme Court appeal over the legal ban preventing him from working.
In a significant decision on Tuesday, the seven-judge Supreme Court unanimously found in favour of the man, but adjourned the matter for six months to allow the legislature consider how to address the situation.
The court found that, “in principle”, the ban in the Refugee Act on asylum seekers seeking employment, is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment.
The decision could have major implications for other asylum seekers.
Giving the court’s judgment, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said the man was eight years in the asylum system before getting refugee status.
While the State can legitimately have a policy of restricting employment of asylum seekers, Section 9.4 of the Refugee Act does “not just severely limit” the right to seek work for asylum seekers, but “removes it altogether”, he said.
If there is no limit on the time for processing an asylum application, that could amount to an absolute prohibition on employment, no matter how long a person was within the system, he said.
He could not accept that if a right is in principle available, that it is an appropriate and permissible differentiation between citizens and non-citizens, and in particular between citizens and asylum seekers, to remove the right for all time for asylum seekers.
“The point has been reached when it cannot be said the legitimate differences between an asylum seeker and a citizen can continue to justify the exclusion of an asylum seeker from the possibility of employment,” he said.
“This damage to the individual’s’ self worth and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right [to seek employment] seeks to guard against.”
The evidence from the man of the depression, frustration and lack of self-belief at being unable to work “bears this out”, he added.
He said, in principle, he would be prepared to find, in circumstances where there is no temporal limit on the asylum process, the “absolute prohibiton” on seeking of employment in Section 9.4, and re-enacted in Section 16.3.b of the International Protection Act 2015, “is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment”.
Because this situation arises because of the intersection of a number of statutory provisions, and could arguably be met by alteration of one or other of those, and since that was “first and foremost a matter for executive and legislative judgment” , the court would adjourn consideration of what form of order to make for six months, he said.
After that period elapsed, the court would hear submissions from the sides as to what form of order should be made “in the light of the circumstances then obtaining”.
Represented by Michael Lynn SC, the man’s case was brought against the Minister for Justice, with the Attorney General and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as notice parties.
The man had argued, while living in direct provision on a €19 weekly allowance, he suffered depression, “almost complete loss of autonomy” and being allowed work was vital to his development, personal dignity and “sense of self worth”.
Shortly after coming here in late 2008, he was refused refugee status, but appealed. After the High Court found errors in how his applications were decided, there were re-hearings before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which last September granted him refugee status.
Because that meant he could legitimately seek employment, the State argued the Supreme Court should dismiss as pointless his appeal against the Court of Appeal’s 2/1 rejection of his case.
Lawyers for the man and IHREC urged the court to address the issues and, in its judgment on Tuesday, the court said it had decided to do so for reasons including the case raised a point of law of general public importance.
In dismissing the man’s case last year, a majority Court of Appeal ruled the open-ended nature of the ban on work did not mean Section 9.4 is unconstitutional and rejected as “too broad a proposition” non-Irish citizens enjoy the same general rights as Irish citizens.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan disagreed.
He ruled the man has a personal right under Article 40.3 of the Constitution to work here and Section 9.4. unconstitutionally struck at the “very substance” of that constitutional right.
Published on The Irish Times on May 30, 2017.