Human rights groups on Sunday published a blistering joint report rejecting the
government’s arguments against accepting migrants and criticizing it for using
force to deter Africans from entering the country.
The report was
published just as Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a letter calling on Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Justice Ministry to allow for the resumption
of arrests of African migrants in Israel.
The NGOs – Human Rights Watch,
the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights – listed and
rejected excuses for denying the migrants entry.
contend that asylum seekers to whom it denies entry can request asylum from
Egyptian authorities, that Israel has the right to seal its borders, and that
its obligations toward asylum seekers do not extend to those who are prevented
from entering its territory.”
“None of these arguments are correct under
the Refugee Convention or international human rights law,” the three rights
The report cites specific examples of IDF soldiers allegedly
denying food and water to migrants, beating them with fists and guns and pushing
them across the Israel-Egypt border with long metal poles.
stated that the migrants face extreme violence if denied entry into Israel,
including torture and rape by Sinai traffickers.
“There is simply no
loophole justifying Israel’s denial of protection to asylum seekers by rejecting
them at the border without fully considering their individual cases,” said Gerry
Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “To
accept such a claim would be to accept the evisceration of refugee
Also on Sunday, Yishai called on Netanyahu and Justice
Minister Yaakov Neeman to begin placing African migrants in detention facilities
in the Negev.
Yishai sent a letter asking them to instruct the Justice
Ministry to carry out a government decision to begin arresting the migrants,
despite recent court decisions that have temporarily halted the plan and called
its legality into question.
The interior minister said in the letter that
court decisions against the plan “cancel and contradict decisions made by the
government to place the Sudanese infiltrators in the facilities.”
who only mentions Sudanese migrants in the letter and not Eritreans, who make up
the majority of the migrants in Israel, adds “as you know, the problem of
infiltration to Israel is one of the most difficult and complicated problems
which Israel has dealt with since the founding of the state, a problem which
threatens our identity, character, and future.”
The interior minister,
who has been the most outspoken government voice against the “infiltrator
problem,” added that while residents of Israel are shouting for help to deal
with the problem “we remain deaf to their cries, in the face of a legal
situation that ignores all the decisions made by the government.
are tied as a result of the decisions made by the courts, which don’t hear the
distress of the citizens of Israel.”
Yishai said this reality demands
that we use the facilities for what they were intended and that “they weren’t
built in vain in order to be ghost towns, rather, as facilities to house
infiltrators before they are removed from the country.”
A source close to
Yishai said the letter is directly related to the upcoming election in January,
and Yishai’s desire to ensure that the “infiltrators issue” remains on the
table, so that Shas doesn’t lose potential voters that it could draw from the
Likud who are frustrated with Netanyahu’s handling of the issue.
official said that the election campaign that Arye Deri plans to run for Shas
will be based on social issues and will not highlight the African migrants
issue. The source said that both Deri and Construction and Housing Minister
Ariel Attias will focus on a social issues campaign, which has left Yishai
concerned that the migrant issue will fall off the agenda and cost Shas
potential votes. He added that Yishai and Deri do not see eye to eye on the
issue of migrants.
Last week, the state attorney requested that the court
throw out an earlier order temporarily freezing any mass arrests of migrants,
and dismiss a petition seeking a permanent freeze, in a response to a petition
on Thursday before the Jerusalem District Court.
The state said that
since no decision on the issue of mass deportations and arrests of African
migrants has been made, there is no decision for the court to freeze, and the
petitioners jumped the gun in filing their petition.
A group of NGOs
filed a petition on October 3 seeking a freeze to mass arrests of migrants,
which Yishai had vowed to carry out beginning on October 15. On October 11, the
Jerusalem District Court issued an order freezing any impending mass arrests of
migrants until a final hearing on October 30.
In response to the paper,
the IDF said Sunday night that “in keeping with decisions made on the policy and
governmental level, IDF troops work to prevent the illegal entry [to Israel] of
infiltrators by way of Israel’s western border. IDF soldiers are not at this
point in time returning infiltrators to Egypt who have crossed the fence and
entered Israeli territory.
“IDF actions are carried out in accordance
with international law and rulings of the Israeli High Court.”