NGOs blast gov’t plan for deportation or incarceration of African migrants
The Interior Ministry’s aggressive, multitiered campaign to deport African asylum-seekers or imprison them within 90 days will result in a humanitarian crisis and a black eye for a country populated by former refugees, rights organizations said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority announced that it is actively pursuing strong measures beginning in March, including indefinite prison sentences, for those who refuse to leave.
While minors and their parents will be exempt from the action, all other migrants who do not accept $3,500 to voluntarily leave Israel by the end of March will be denied temporary visas and locked in a Negev prison facility.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday renewed his pledge to forcibly deport African asylum-seekers to Rwanda, whose government will reportedly receive $5,000 per person sent there.
Although the government labels the vast majority of the 35,000 refugees as “infiltrators” because they illegally entered Israel via Sinai, Dror Sadot, spokeswoman for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said they are primarily legitimate asylum- seekers fleeing genocide.
Forced deportation to Rwanda, said Sadot, will likely place them in life-threatening circumstances.
“We know from numerous testimonies that the refugees who are sent to Rwanda are tortured and not given any security, status or work permits, so they must continue with their asylum journey,” she said.
“With a refugee crisis all over the world, Israel, which has enough resources to absorb 35,000 refugees, has a moral obligation to grant refugee status. Jewish people know best what it is like to be a refugee, and it is the obligation of a Jewish state to accept people who are asking for asylum.”
Sadot continued: “The government has crossed a redline, and we see a lot of panic in the community – particularly at our Crisis Intervention Center [in Tel Aviv], where there are now lines outside our offices. There is a complete lack of transparency, and it is terrifying these people.”
Adonay, a 33-year-old Eritrean merchant who requested his last name not be published, put the pending ultimatum in stark terms.
“If I am forced to go to Rwanda, I will die,” he said on Wednesday. “I know of people who went there – and we never heard from them again. They are given no rights and have no status.”
In a joint letter, a consortium of human rights agencies – including Amnesty International Israel, ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees, ACRI – The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and the African Refugee Development Center – deemed forced deportation a veritable death sentence.
“Israel is sending refugees to an unsafe country, and many of them to their deaths,” the letter stated.
“Rwanda is not safe. All eyewitness accounts tell us that those who are deported from Israel to Rwanda find themselves exposed to threats such as kidnapping, torture and human trafficking. They are forced to continue their lives as refugees.
“Few of them succeed in surviving the journey and arriving in the end to a safe haven. The expulsion to Rwanda endangers the very lives of these refugees.”
Moreover, the human rights activists claim that Israel is deliberately preventing Africans from applying for asylum, and then stating that since they did not submit their requests, they will expel them.
“This year alone, 7,000 Eritreans and Sudanese tried to submit asylum applications, but the Population and Immigration Authority prevented them from physically doing so,” the letter states.
“The only office in the country where one can apply for asylum doesn’t even allow for Africans to use their rights and refuses to take in the asylum applications of the thousands of them who wait in line for days.”