Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled that while the state is entitled to deport asylum seekers to third countries in Africa, it cannot use the threat of indefinite detention to compel them to agree to go. Previously some asylum seekers had been detained for as long as 12 months. The limit now is 60 days.
The government has been reluctant to grant legal status to African asylum seekers with only 1% receiving a refugee visa to remain and work. Many have been forced into detention camps. Without a policy to manage asylum seekers, Israel’s government has sought to send them away and to deter more refugees from arriving.
Accepting that it would be dangerous to return them to their home countries, Israel has instead negotiated agreements with other countries in Africa like Rwanda to take in the migrants. But the migrants fear for their lives in a country far from their homeland and which also has its own recent bloody history of genocide and ethnic tensions.
In response to this court ruling, NIF grantee Hotline for Migrants Workers said, “The policy – dubbed ‘Saharonim or Rwanda‘ was announced in April 2015, and we have had an injunction against it while we turned to the District Court, lost, and then went to the High Court. For over two years the fear of the Saharonim or Rwanda policy has loomed in the background of everything related to refugees.”
Saharonim is a detention facility for African asylum seekers located in the Negev desert.
The case was argued by lawyers at the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University on behalf of human rights organisations including the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Workers Hotline – Kav La’Oved, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), ASSAF – Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and other partner organisations.
Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority estimates that there are over 40,000 African refugees and asylum seekers living in Israel, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan. The flow of migrants has stopped in recent years. Most of them reached Israel via Egypt and the Sinai desert between 2006 and 2012, fleeing war, oppression, and torture in Sudan and Eritrea.
Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir