Israeli activists deem ruling on migrants’ deportation bittersweet

"Most important is that the government cannot forcibly deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda."

August 29, 2017 19:46
2 minute read.
Migrant workers

CHILDREN OF migrant workers play on a Tel Aviv beach on Independence Day, marking the 65th anniversary of the creation of the state last year.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One day after the High Court of Justice ruled that it is illegal to detain African asylum-seekers indefinitely or deport them to Rwanda against their will, the two NGOs that filed the petition drawing the decision deemed it a bittersweet victory.

The joint petition was submitted in 2015 by the African Refugee Development Center and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, both founded to assist and empower African refugees primarily from war-torn Sudan and Eritrea.

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Over the years, the government has tried a variety of pressure tactics to reduce the number of migrants, including extended or indefinite detention, the prospect of forced deportation to a third country and a 20% tax on migrants’ earnings.

The strategy paid off.

Between 2007-2012, more than 64,000 African asylum-seekers fled to seek refuge in Israel. Today, only 38,540 remain, over 4,000 of whom live in the Holot and Saharonim detention facilities in the Negev Desert.

On Tuesday, Sigal Rozen, the hotline’s public policy department manager, praised the court for eliminating the prospect of forced deportation to Rwanda, where many migrants fear for their safety.

Noting that over 10,000 African migrants have voluntarily left Israel since 2013 to third countries, including Uganda and Rwanda, after receiving a $3,500 government incentive, Rozen said the prospect of forced deportation to Rwanda is now off the table.

“The ruling is good and bad,” said Rozen. “The good part is that the High Court of Justice agreed with us that Israel cannot hold anyone for an indefinite period of time just for refusing to go to a country that is not their own, or force them to go to Rwanda.

“The bad part of the ruling,” she continued, “is that it still allows the government to deport migrants if it finds another third country, other than Rwanda, that agrees to accept them. Our concern is the nature of the third country that will accept them under such conditions.”

It remains unclear how long detainees will be held in detention facilities going forward.

ARDC CEO Ori Lahat echoed Rozen’s concerns.

“The most important thing is that in the immediate term, the High Court ruled that the government cannot forcibly deport asylum seekers to Rwanda now against their will,” he said.

“However, in the long term, we still have a problem because the court did say that it’s OK to deport asylum-seekers to a different third country that agrees to take them, even if they do not want to go there. So, this is why it’s a good and bad decision.”

Meanwhile, Ali Osman, a refugee from Darfur who serves as chairman of the board at ARDC, said the law should not have been put into effect to begin with.

“It is a good decision that the High Court has limited it, but I still want asylum-seekers’ cases to be reviewed and approved or denied by the government much faster,” he said.

According to Osman, apart from the numerous ways refugees are alienated within Israeli society by the government, many have waited up to 12 years to simply learn if they will be granted refugee status.

“Whatever the decision is – good or bad – we will take it,” he said. “But to wait for 12 years for a single case is no way to live.”

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