Responding on Friday to a Haaretz report that Israel is financing flights and assisting illegal migrants to move to Rwanda and Uganda, the Prime Minister’s Office said that “all actions comport with international law.”
The government is “putting the breaks on the phenomenon of illegal infiltrators coming to Israel, and it is determined to continue to return thousands of work-seeking infiltrators to their nations of origin,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.
The response did not specifically confirm or deny the report.
The unconfirmed report comes days after the state told a maximum-sized nine-justice High Court of Justice panel that two countries had agreed to take some of Israel’s migrants, but left the countries’ anonymous, at a dramatic hearing over whether to declare the state’s policy on the issue unconstitutional.
Migrants reportedly told Haaretz that Israel paid for their trips and gave them a one-time payment of $3,500, but did not assist beyond that point.
“V.,” an Eritrean who was living in Israel until he received payment to leave and was sent to Rwanda, spoke to Hamoked for Refugees and Migrants (formerly the Hotline for Migrant Workers), whom he told that when he landed in Rwanda, he was only given a 10-day tourist visa. That didn’t matter to him, however, because he wasn’t optimistic about finding work in the country anyway.
The report, based mainly on testimonies from asylum-seekers, sheds light on the state’s latest push to deal with high numbers of illegal infiltrators in Israel. Although no official statistics on how many migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda are given, the report leaves room to believe that the state may have found a path for a large number of migrants to leave.
There had been on-and-off reports for months that the country where migrants were being sent was Uganda, but the numbers of migrants leaving Israel in general and being discussed were much smaller.
The state’s policy, including placing new illegal migrants in closed detention for up to one year, but also allowing placing up to 4,000 (so far) already in Israel in open detention for an indefinite period, was initiated in mid-December 2013 under pressure from a mid-September 2013 High Court ruling striking down the old policy as unconstitutional.
Since the new policy’s initiation, 3,988 migrants have left the country, including 1,510 in March alone.
The old policy included placing around 2,000 migrants in closed detention for three years before the state had to address their refugee status.
While the government may claim greater success in convincing migrants to leave in recent months, when asked at last week’s High Court hearing what would be done in the event that tens of thousands of migrants still do not leave, there was no clear answer.
Rather, the state emphasized that the open detentions (if not struck down by the High Court) could be increased somewhat and expressed hope that more migrants would leave, without fully explaining its plan B.