Amnesty slams Israel's policy on African immigrants

By Rita Hernandes April 14, 2018

Israel’s deportation of African asylum-seekers is cruel and misguided, says human rights body.


Israel’s policy of deporting African asylum-seekers to two secret African countries is an abdication of its responsibility to refugees and an example of the vicious political measures feeding the “global refugee crisis”, human rights organisation Amnesty International has said.

In a communiqué issued on March 26, Amnesty alleged that Israel has reached agreements with two countries – widely believed to be Uganda and Rwanda.

Under the Tel Aviv’s new ‘procedure for deportation to third countries’, launched in January, those who agree to leave are given $3,500 and a ticket, either to 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”. The targets of the policy mostly hail from Eritrea and Sudan

“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.

“Considering the scale of the global refugee crisis, 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 become a hallmark of dysfunctional asylum and immigration processes.”

Under the policy, Eritrean and Sudanese men were scheduled to leave Israel by April 4. The policy 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. 

The Israeli government has not provided details of the agreements, including the identity of the “third countries”. Rwanda and Uganda have denied the existence of the agreements.

Israel boasts one of the highest gross domestic products 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 respond to the global refugee crisis as many other wealthy nations have – by accepting asylum-seekers in desperate need of a home,” said Luther.

“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,” he added. 

Amnesty says the agreements 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.

The Israeli Supreme Court has pointed out that the secret nature of the agreements denies asylum-seekers legal protection or access to legal recourse.

None of those deported to Rwanda and Uganda – and later interviewed by NGOs, academics and the United Nations refugee agency – were granted regular status upon arrival, Amnesty says.

Explained 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.”

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’s acceptance rate of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seeker claims is extremely low: Between 2013 and 2017, only 12 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals have been recognised as refugees.

In the case of Eritreans, Israel does not consider deserters from the Eritrean military service to qualify for refugee status. But in January, 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 March 22, 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.

“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 Luther.

He added: “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.”.