An African migrant holds an Israeli flag after being released from the Holot detention center in the Negev.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The whole world may know that Israel is deporting certain migrants to Rwanda and a range of pro-migrant groups may be attacking the state for a lack of transparency in the deportation process, but that did not stop the Supreme Court from striking all mentions of the word “Rwanda” from its transcript of Tuesday’s hearing on the issue.
On November 8, the Beersheba District Court, in its administrative capacity, rejected a request by the groups, led by the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, to strike down the state’s current policy of imprisoning migrants denied refugee status indefinitely if they refuse self-deportation to an unnamed third country.
The pro-migrant groups appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court which heard the issue on Tuesday.
It has been publicly known for years that the country’s migrants are being deported primarily to Rwanda and some to Uganda. Despite this, the state continues to maintain this information is secret.
A spokeswoman for the appealing groups stated that their lawyer had referred to Rwanda during the hearing in which they attacked the policy, in particular for a lack of transparency.
She said transparency issues included the state’s failure to tell migrants where they would be deported to and to ensure the migrants are treated properly post-deportation.
The groups’ lawyer referred to Rwanda during presentation of testimony by migrants currently in Rwanda after their deportation.
At some point, the state asked that any references to “Rwanda” be deleted from the transcript, a request that delayed distribution of the transcript to the press by several hours.
When the transcript was finally distributed, it included a decision by the Supreme Court itself, stating that “the transcript of the hearing will be amended to strike the name of the third country” to which migrants are being deported.
The Supreme Court’s endorsement of the state’s request to strike the “third state’s name” even though it is widely known to be Rwanda indicated that the court accepts the state’s policy of imprisoning migrants not given refugee status and who refuse self-deportation.
However, the Supreme Court asked tough questions about the implementation of the deportations and the oversight to ensure the migrants’ proper treatment post-deportation.
The state claimed that it carefully oversees the integration of the migrants post-deportation, that it has sent an inspector to review the situation up close and has even contacted many migrants by telephone.
But the pro-migrant groups hit back, asserting that the state had failed to reach around 600 migrants by telephone, indicating that its oversight efforts had failed.
Further, they said that the inspector was a temporary visitor who did not have independent access to migrants and was monitored by Rwandan government officials, such that the migrants could not freely express their true thoughts.
Along that line of criticism, they noted a US State Department report which said that, while in most cases Rwanda’s judiciary operated without government interference, “there were constraints on judicial independence, however, and government officials sometimes attempted to influence individual cases.”
They proposed having an independent group such as the UN visit and review the migrants’ circumstances, saying that a government inspector would be pressured into toeing the government’s line that the program was working.
The court threw out the idea of having a permanent representative for migrants on the ground in the third country.
A spokeswoman for the migrants said that their first preference was to cancel this policy and all policies viewed as punitive to migrants, but that absent such a policy shift, a permanent inspector could improve things if he was truly independent and not trying to whitewash the policy’s issues.
She said migrant groups are also concerned that if the policy stands, the state will begin to more rapidly, summarily reject migrants’ refugee status requests to intimidate them into deportation.
Next, she noted that of 43,000 migrants, only four have been granted refugee status and hundreds of requests have been rejected.
The Supreme Court ordered the state to provide greater detail about its oversight within 10 days, scheduling the next hearing within 45 days.
In February, the Knesset passed the government’s fourth policy in the last few years to address African migrants who arrive in Israel illegally. The policy permits the placement of migrants in a combination of closed and open detention centers for up to 12 months.
Although the Supreme Court struck down three prior detention plans as unconstitutional, the pro-migrant groups are less confident that they can fully strike down the new policy, as the 12-month detention period was suggested by the Supreme Court itself in a prior decision.