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
The associations Sherpa, the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) and Ibuka France launched a complaint against BNP Paribas on the basis of complicity in genocide, in crime against humanity and in war crimes. The bank would have agreed to transfer in June 1994, one month after the UN had voted an arms’ embargo and during the genocide, 1.3 million dollars from an account of its client, the National Rwandan Bank (BNR in French) to the Swiss account of an arms’ South African dealer, Mr Ehlers.
Mr. Ehlers would have then gone to the Seychelles with a Hutu colonel Mr Théoneste Bagosora to agree upon the sale of eighty tons of arms, on June 17th, which would then have been transported to Gisenyi (Rwanda) via Goma (Zaire). During his audition in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the colonel Bagosora confirmed that weapons coming from the Seychelles via Goma served to “give a hand to Kigali”.
Further, the Brussels Lambert Bank (BBL in French) had refused the request to use the funds of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda (BCR in French) refusing to violate the embargo. According to the testimony of a person posted by the BBL in Rwanda, the banking sector, who already was under the obligation to inquire that its clients explain the destination of the funds under unusual circumstances, knew “the Rwandan government had a crucial need for fund […] it was clear for everyone that they had to buy weapons and ammunition. The Rwanda was under an embargo”. According to him, The BNP would have been the only bank who had agreed to provide financial resources to Rwanda.
Thus, according to the number of testimonies and investigation reports, such as the UN International Investigation Commission, the proceeding would prove that the BNP knew necessarily the destination of the funds and knew it could contribute to the ongoing genocide.
This is the first time such a complaint is initiated against a bank in France on such a legal basis. If the facts were to be proven, it would highlight the potential responsibility of investors in armed conflicts and more generally in serious violation of human rights. “The duty of care as adopted on the 21st of February 2017, as applied to financial institutions, should prevent their implication in such violations” declares Sandra Cossart, Program Director at Sherpa.
Published on Sherpa on June 29, 2017.
BY EILLIE ANZILOTTI
In 2007, Feike Sijbesma, the CEO of the Dutch vitamin and nutritional-supplement company Royal DSM, attended the World Economic Forum, where he heard in a breakout session with several African leaders that the humanitarian aid that flows into the continent from western countries does as much harm as good. It was an argument that had been percolating for a while–2007 was the same year that Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda gave his provocative TED talk, “Aid for Africa? No Thanks,” in which he describes how aid hinders economic independence and growth in the developing world.
But the argument against aid Sijbesma heard was specifically around food assistance. “The leaders were saying to me that the food help western countries give, which mainly involves flying in staple foods from Europe and the U.S., certainly keeps people alive, but it also makes them ill because the food is not really nutritious,” Sijbesma tells Fast Company. Staple foods are mainly carbohydrates, which fill out caloric intake minimums, but the inadequately diverse diet leads to anemia, infectious diseases, and stunting. “In a closed-door session, I heard one leader say that people stay alive but become ill and cannot participate in the economy, this makes our countries poorer,” Sijbesma says. “And you call this humanitarian help?”
The session resonated with Sijbesma. And as the CEO of the largest vitamin and mineral manufacturer in the world, he saw a way for DSM to get involved in addressing the problem. Following the World Economic Forum, DSM partnered with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to boost the presence of essential vitamins and nutrients in the food delivered to populations in need, specifically pregnant women and children within the first 1,000 days of life–a critical time frame for ensuring against stunting, which affects around 25% of children under five worldwide and prevents them from developing both physically and intellectually. The ongoing partnership, through which DSM has supplied the WFP with nutrients and vitamins to add to its fortified rice and grain products, has reached over 30 million people through aid delivery and school-feeding programs.
But DSM’s latest nutritional aid initiative goes beyond food delivery and toward establishing the economic independence Mwenda argued humanitarian aid precludes. A manufacturing facility in Rwanda, which has been operational since November and officially unveiled on May 31, is bolstering the country’s economy while producing the fortified grains, porridge flours that are supplemented with vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E & D and calcium, zinc and iron, to support infant and maternal health.
Africa Improved Foods (AIF), a partnership between DSM, the World Food Programme, the Rwandan government, and various other stakeholders like the International Finance Corporation, is the first public-private partnership to take root in Africa specifically to address malnutrition.
To source the maize and soy that forms the base of the porridges, the AIF consortium is working with 7,500 Rwandan smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women; the AIF plant has also created 314 new jobs, all filled by locals. “It’s an astounding fact that over half the people in the world who suffer from hunger are small-scale farmers,” says Rick Leach, president and CEO of the World Food Program USA. “Sourcing from local small-scale farmers will help to deal with extreme poverty and chronic hunger in the country.”
The WFP has signed a $100 million multi-year contract to purchase AIF products for its African food initiatives; so far, the products are being distributed among breastfeeding mothers and young children in Rwanda, a country where 44% of the population is affected by stunting. Drought-stricken Somalia, Egypt, and Kenya will also receive the fortified AIF products. AIF expects to contribute 5-10% to Rwanda’s export sector and bring in around $40 million to the country per year in exchanges.
Rwanda, Sijbesma says, was the ideal country to pilot this initiative in, having both a demonstrated need for nutritious food and enough political stability that the various private-sector and philanthropic stakeholders could work with the government to ensure the program takes root. The country ranks 151 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index–a composite metric tracking life expectancy and per-capita income–and despite its relative political stability now, is still struggling to recover from the 1994 genocide that ravaged the country’s population and landscape.
The support of the government, Sijbesma says, is crucial for the initiative in Rwanda, and will be should DSM be able to scale–as it plans–this models to other countries. “At DSM, we wanted to be the initiative-taker,” Sijbesma says, “but we don’t want to own this operation.” The idea behind AIF, Sijbesma says, is that DSM and other stakeholders can fund the factory’s development (they won’t release exact financials, but the project totaled in the tens of millions of dollars), and eventually create a model that’s economically self-sustaining, and locally supported. By 2022, AIF estimates it will contribute $36 million annually to the Rwandan economy through spending on materials, transport, water, employment, and sales.
The aid-via-economic-development model represented by the AIF facility is, Sijbesma says, breaking down the silos that have long been drawn around development initiatives and emergency aid. Instead of relying on the constant cycle of crisis followed by flown-in assistance, the facility, Sijbesma hopes, proves that resilience can be built into communities and independently sustained. Leach agrees. “Ultimately, the goal of aid organizations like WFP is to leave,” he says. “If we can create enough local capacity to help a country evolve to the point where they no longer need international support, that means we’ll have gotten somewhere.
Published on Fast Company on June 11, 2017.