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
By Peter Beaumont
The United Nations general assembly has delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said that Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” America by voting against it.
Despite the warning, 128 members voted on Thursday in favour of the resolution supporting the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians – can only be settled as an agreed final issue in a peace deal. Countries which voted for the resolution included major recipients of US aid such as Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although largely symbolic, the vote in emergency session of the world body had been the focus of days of furious diplomacy by both the Trump administration and Israel, including Trump’s threat to cut US funding to countries that did not back the US recognition.
But only nine states – including the United States and Israel –voted against the resolution. The other countries which supported Washington were Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Honduras.
Twenty-two of the 28 EU countries voted for the resolution, including the UK and France. Germany – which in the past has abstained on measures relating to Israel – also voted in favour.
Thirty-five countries abstained, including five EU states, and other US allies including Australia, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. Ambassadors from several abstaining countries, including Mexico, used their time on the podium to criticise Trump’s unilateral move.
Another 21 delegations were absent from the vote, suggesting the Trump’s warning over funding cuts and Israel’s lobbying may have had some effect.
While support for the resolution was somewhat less than Palestinian officials had hoped, the meagre tally of just nine votes in support of the US and Israeli position was a serious diplomatic blow for Trump.
Immediately after the vote the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the result as a “victory for Palestine”. The Palestinians’ UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, described the result as a “massive setback” for the US.
“They made it about them,” Mansour told AFP. “They did not make it about Jerusalem, so when you make it about them and to only be able to get nine votes to say ‘no’ to it, I think it was a complete failure for their campaign.”
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the UN vote out of hand.
“Israel thanks President Trump for his unequivocal position in favour of Jerusalem and thanks the countries that voted together with Israel, together with the truth,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
Speaking to the assembly before the vote, Haley – who earlier in the week told members that the US “would be taking names” – returned to the offensive.
“I must also say today: when we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have expectation that we will be respected,” she said. “What’s more, we are being asked to pay for the dubious privileges of being disrespected.”
Haley added: “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our investment in other ways … The United States will remember this day.”
In his own speech Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said UN members who backed the resolution were being manipulated. “You are like puppets pulled by your Palestinian masters,” he told the session.
While Thursday’s resolution was in support of existing UN resolutions on Jerusalem and the peace process, the clumsy intervention by Trump and Haley also made the vote a referendum on Trump’s often unilateral and abrasive foreign policy.
The debate and vote highlighted for a second time in a week the international isolation of the United States over the Jerusalem issue, following a similar vote in the security council on Tuesday in which it was outnumbered 14-1.
The threatening US posture, which had been denounced as both counter-productive and “bullying”, only seemed to have hardened the resolve of countries in opposing Trump’s 6 December move.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, called Trump’s recognition “null and void” and reaffirmed 10 security council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It also “demands that all states comply with security council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions”.
Earlier on Thursday, as it had become clear that the US and Israel would be heavily defeated, Netanyahu pre-emptively denounced the vote calling the UN a “house of lies”.
“The state of Israel rejects this vote outright,” Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem is our capital, we will continue to build there and additional embassies will move to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether or not the UN recognises this. It took 70 years for the United States to formally recognise this, and it will take years for the UN to do the same.”
Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, called for Israel to cut its ties with the UN and expel the organisation from its Jerusalem offices.
“We must evict the UN from the scenic Governor’s House, where its bloated staff does nothing, and give this historic site to a school, a hospital or – best yet – a new US embassy.”
Published on December 21, 2017 on The Guardian
The activities of Israeli banks in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank raise serious human rights concerns. By providing services to and in settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), and partnering with developers in new construction projects, Israeli banks are making existing settlements more sustainable, enabling the expansion of their built-up area and the take-over of Palestinian land, and furthering the de facto annexation of the territory. All of this contributes to serious human rights and IHL abuses.
When faced with such concerns over their banking activities in and with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli banks have said that they are required by Israeli law to provide those services.
However, Human Rights Watch can find no Israeli domestic law that requires Israeli banks to provide many such settlement-related activities. In other words, Israeli banks could stop many of their settlement-related activities – notably financing new construction, providing mortgages, and operating service points -- branches and ATMs – without necessarily incurring adverse domestic legal consequences.
Even if that were not the case, Israeli banks would have a responsibility in all circumstances to seek ways to honor the principles of internationally recognized human rights.
In this paper, Human Rights Watch analyzes Israeli domestic law governing banking activities, including recent amendments to anti-discrimination and consumer protection legislation and a law addressing calls to boycott Israel or its settlements. This paper outlines which activities Israeli law does and does not require banks to undertake in settlements, and makes recommendations to Israeli banks, their investors, the Bank of Israel, the Israeli government and third-party states. It also addresses the human rights responsibilities that foreign institutional investors in these banks have and provides recommendations for how they might meet those responsibilities. The analysis in this paper is limited to the activities of Israeli banks in and with settlements and does not address other kinds of activities undertaken by Israeli banks.
Human Rights Watch does not believe it is possible for businesses to operate in the settlements in compliance with their international responsibilities, due to the inherent IHL and human rights violations that characterize settlements. Human Rights Watch is calling for banks, like other businesses, to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities.
Under Israeli banking, consumer, and anti-discrimination law, banks cannot reject customers based on their place of residence, which could be interpreted by Israeli courts to include residence outside of Israel, in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But it is Human Rights Watch's assessment that banks can, under domestic law, avoid providing many services that support settlements and settlement activity, and that doing so is necessary to fulfill their human rights responsibilities. Banks are not obliged to provide their services everywhere and are not prohibited from refusing to offer services based on business or other considerations, regardless of where a would-be customer lives. Israeli law prohibits discrimination against an individual based on the individual's place of residence, not differentiation based on the geographic location where services will be provided or other substantive elements of a service or transaction. Indeed, Israeli consumer protection law allows businesses to refrain from offering goods and services in settlements, provided they notify customers in advance of this choice and apply the policy to all customers, irrespective of their place of residence. Israeli anti-discrimination law forbids banks from discriminating in services or goods provided in the place of business, based on the client's place of residence, but does not bar declining financial services in a certain area based on other considerations.
For these reasons, Human Rights Watch believes that while banks cannot, under Israeli law, reject settlers as customers, they do not have to provide financial services that involve settlements, such as financing construction projects or mortgages for settlement properties, when the grounds for refusal are not the place of residence of the customer but rather the business and human rights considerations stemming from the location of the activities, for example the nature of the property rights in the housing unit and the construction's implications on Palestinians’ human rights.
Based on Human Rights Watch’s analysis of Israeli law and the international humanitarian and human rights standards applicable to businesses and settlements, this means that banks can refuse to offer many services that “touch” settlements, as long as they disclose that policy and as long as the grounds for the refusal are perceived by courts not as relating to the clients themselves, but as stemming from the special business and other implications that arise from the nature of the transaction. For example, banks could refuse to offer a service if that transaction originates, terminates or passes through a settlement as long, as they disclose that they decline to provide services in settlements and apply that policy to all customers. Israeli regulatory law also provides banks a kind of safe haven by allowing them to propose policies of this type to the Bank of Israel for approval. This is just one of the many steps that Israeli banks can and should take to fulfill their human rights responsibilities and cease doing business in or with settlements.
Published on HRW on September 12, 2017.
To read the full report click here.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls upon the Israeli authorities to live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL), in clarifying the fate of the nineteen Palestinians who went missing during the 2014 conflict.
"During the past few days, we called for clarity in relation to the fate of missing Israeli nationals. Today we do the same for missing Palestinians," said the head of the ICRC’s delegation in Israel and the occupied territories, Jacques de Maio. "Families face unbearable uncertainty. The dead must be identified and their remains returned to the families. The right to know the fate of missing relatives is a fundamental principle of humanitarian law.”
In its role as a neutral intermediary and on behalf of the families, the ICRC provided its services to support the identification of 19 bodies that the Israeli authorities publically acknowledged in 2015 that they held. To date, however, the ICRC and families still await answers.
The ICRC has been following up on the fate of all missing Palestinians and Israeli nationals who have gone missing in connection with conflicts in Israel and the occupied territories since 1967. The ICRC remains committed to discovering the fate of all those still unaccounted for. "
Published on the ICRC's website on June 11, 2017.
By Peter Beaumont
The UN’s top human rights official has marked the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories by calling for its quick end, insisting that such an outcome would benefit both sides.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the Jordanian prince and UN high commissioner for human rights, echoed the strong language of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who earlier this week condemned the occupation’s “heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people”, which he said had “fuelled recurring cycles of violence and retribution”.
The remarks follow a series of critical reports by humanitarian and rights organisations that reveal the impact of the 50-year occupation, and come as Israeli politicians celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 six-day war, in which Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City.
The focus of the Israeli celebrations has been what it calls the “reunification” of Jerusalem, a characterisation rejected by most of the international community, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the captured territories.
Although Israel has attempted to treat the war’s anniversary as a national celebration, the occupation that followed Israel’s victory over Jordan, Syria and Egypt has drawn more attention internationally.
Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in Jerusalem on Tuesday: “This 50-year-old festering wound is a reflection of a capitulation of Israeli, Palestinian and international leadership in the search for peace and reconciliation.
“Two generations have already lived under occupation and in mounting disillusionment and despair. Both Palestinian and Israeli children are denied a future in peace and security.”
Zeid’s comments, also on Tuesday, were made in a speech marking the opening of the three-week session of the UN’s human rights council. He described the anniversary for the Palestinian people as marking “a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force”.
While saying that Israelis deserved freedom from attacks, Zeid laid the blame for the continuing cycle of violence on the occupation. “Maintain the occupation,” he said, “and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain.”
Zeid also condemned 2,000 years of anti-Jewish sentiment, which he said had culminated in the “colossal crime” of the Holocaust.
The UN body is frequently accused of being hostile to Israel by its critics, including the Israeli government and some in the US. On Tuesday the Trump administration gave formal notice of its intention to review its participation in the council and called for it to be reformed to eliminate a “chronic anti-Israel bias”.
“The United States is looking carefully at this council and our participation in it. We see some areas for significant strengthening,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Geneva forum in her first address.
Zeid’s comments echoed an equally forthright statement on Monday from the UN secretary general. Guterres said the continued occupation was “an unmistakable message to generations of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that: a dream; and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition remains unattainable”.
“Generation after generation of Palestinians who have been compelled to grow up and live in ever more crowded refugee camps, many in abject poverty, and with little or no prospect of a better life for their children,” he said.
“Continued settlement construction and expansion; violence and incitement; and the illicit arms build-up and militant activity in Gaza risk creating a one-state reality that is incompatible with realising the legitimate national and historic aspirations of both peoples.”
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using “repression, institutionalised discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights” to maintain control over areas it occupies.
It cited “at least five categories of major violations of international human rights law … characterised [by] the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.”
“Whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably, or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit, or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses during this 50-year occupation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory – repression that extends far beyond any security rationale.”
Oxfam last week blamed the international community for “continu[ing] to turn a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law and the abuse of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory [OPT]”.
Oxfam country director Chris Eijkemans said the inaction of international governments sent the wrong signal: that international law can be violated with impunity. This lack of accountability keeps Palestinians poor and prevents them from accessing their rights. “There are few examples of poverty or injustice in the OPT that do not stem from the occupation,” Eijkemans said.
“If it weren’t for the occupation, most aid agencies would not need to be here. The issues facing Palestinians are enormous and complex, but on each count, despite the billions of dollars invested, the lives of Palestinians cannot meaningfully improve as long as the occupation persists.”
Israeli officials have insisted that the continuing conflict is not about the occupation but is due to Palestinian intransigence in peace negotiations.
Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, Michael Oren, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday. He said: “We’ll hear a lot this week about occupation and lack of Palestinian independence. Israel has a clear policy on this score: it does not want to rule over another people and is ready to begin immediate negotiations.
“Yet while Palestinian leaders claim they support a two-state solution, until they state that they favour ‘two states for two peoples’, affirming both Jewish and Palestinian peoplehood and rights, the conflict will tragically persist. It is only through mutual recognition that Israelis and Palestinians will both be able to celebrate, rather than mourn, future anniversaries.”
Published on The Guardian on June 6, 2017.