African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards them.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Israel should be transparent about any new agreement with an African country enabling Jerusalem to forcibly deport African migrants, Ori Lahat, the head of Tel Aviv’s African Refugee Development Center, said on Tuesday.
Lahat was responding to an Israel Hayom story, which said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently signed an agreement with leaders of unnamed African states he met at the UN in September making this possible.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that “there is progress on the issue,” but no specifics were provided about what was agreed or which countries were involved.
The only African leader Netanyahu met with publicly in New York was Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, whom he requested to meet. Kagame, one of Israel’s best friends in Africa, visited the country just two months earlier.
According to the Israel Hayom
story, up until now, agreements with African countries to accept migrants deported from Israel were on condition that migrants not be forcibly expelled. Under the new agreements, the paper reported, this is no longer a condition.
One government source familiar with the issue said that agreement has legal validity as the receiving country would not have to investigate whether the migrants came of their own free will. The source also said the agreement meets international criteria.
Netanyahu made a reference to migrant deportation during his speech on Monday at the opening of the Knesset’s winter Session. He said that “we are acting resolutely” regarding the migrants, and “are determined to remove the illegal infiltrators from the State of Israel,” providing no additional details.
In August, the High Court of Justice struck down a key element of Netanyahu’s policy toward migrants by saying the government cannot detain thousands of migrants indefinitely who do not have refugee status and refuse deportation to an unnamed country in Africa in exchange for a few thousand shekels.
There is an estimated 38,000 African migrants living in the country illegally, compared to some 64,000 in 2012, before a border fence with Egypt was erected.
Lahat said he was aware of the agreement reported in Israel Hayom
, but had not seen any details outlining it, and therefore was reluctant to issue a formal response.
He said that if an agreement was reached, the details must be readily forthcoming and transparent to the public. “If indeed there is an agreement, I think that it should be made public and we should know about it, and in that case, we will be able to debate it like in any normal democratic country,” he said.
Lahat has repeatedly filed joint-petitions to the High Court against forced deportations.
“The facts shouldn’t be hidden... This is not something that should be left in the dark,” he added.
Lahat has previously criticized the Interior Ministry over what he deemed draconian practices against a vulnerable population referred to by the government as “infiltrators” – instead of refugees – in what he believes is a cynical attempt to garner public support against them.