NGO: State tells migrants to ‘voluntarily’ go to unknown country or be imprisoned

Justice Ministry responded to inquiries on the issue without naming the new countries, while also not denying they were Uganda, Rwanda.

AFRICAN MIGRANTS sit on pipes outside Holot, a detention centre in Israel’s southern Negev desert. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AFRICAN MIGRANTS sit on pipes outside Holot, a detention centre in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An NGO posted on Thursday the text of what it said were letters from the state to certain illegal African migrants, who have been told they must leave the country within 30 days to an unknown country or face imprisonment.
The NGO, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, also said that the state is willfully misleading migrants by telling them that the conditions in the unnamed countries, which the NGO has identified as Uganda and Rwanda, are good; whereas all data collected by the NGO recently showed a much darker picture.
The Justice Ministry responded to inquiries on the issue without naming the countries, while also not denying they were Uganda and Rwanda.
A spokesman said that Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein had checked with the Foreign Ministry that the countries would not torture or otherwise persecute the migrants and that they would have an opportunity to find work.
However, neither the text of the letter sent to migrants, nor the Justice Ministry response shared any specific data or examples of positive results, in contrast to the NGO’s detailed report of negative results on the issue.
Asked about whether the Foreign Ministry was actually checking whether the facts on the ground corresponded to what information the governments of Uganda and Rwanda provided, the ministry did not respond.
In a second response late Thursday, the Justice Ministry said that it would start keeping more careful track of how migrants were doing in the new countries, beyond accepting those countries’ confirmations.
The NGO also added that the new proposed “solution” does not address the roots of the problem and cannot serve as a comprehensive solution.
In the past, pro-migrant advocates have noted that even at maximum capacity, there is simply not enough space in the open Holot and closed Saharonim detention facilities to move more than a small fraction of the migrants there.
In other words, if all of the migrants threatened with arrest were apprehended, tens of thousands of them would still be in southern Tel Aviv with no real change for them or for long-time residents of the area.
The legal issues involved are cloudy as the High Court of Justice has struck two laws the state has passed on the issue as unconstitutional, and the third version of the law currently in effect (but which may also get struck) does not allow the state to send migrants from Holot to Saharonim simply for refusing self-deportation.
However, the state says it is applying an older law for illegal border crossing, which allows a broader range of summary closed detention.
The difficulty with applying that law is that it generally limits detention to 60 days, whereas the state appears ready to try to apply an interpretation of that law and the current law to allow more extended detention.
The NGO said that the state’s selective interpretation of the two laws was particularly problematic while the whole policy is currently before the High Court regarding its constitutionality.
The NGO’s criticism comes after the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said on Tuesday that Interior Minister Gilad Erdan “has formulated a process that will begin... to expand the voluntary return of infiltrators to a third country.”
The letter, which the NGO sad was sent by the state to migrants says they will be given NIS 3,500 and that, “after we worked hard in recent months, we have found a country for you. The country will permit you to find work and a place to reside... it is developing well economically.”
It continues, “Because of the improved political situation, the country has a strong government, good education, health and transportation apparatuses... Sudanese and Eritreans who left with the help of the Israeli government to the third country say that it is a good life, they are learning English and they have good work.”
In contrast, the NGO’s recent report said that migrants who arrive in Uganda and Rwanda are given no status, no ability to work, that their documents and money are taken upon arrival and that the situation is very poor.
At present, there are around 2,000 migrants at the Holot detention facility in the Negev, out of a population of around 42,000 Eritrean and Sudanese citizens in the country.
The issue of voluntary deportation is a controversial one in that those who don’t agree to leave face continued detention in Israel. According to PIBA figures, since the beginning of 2014, around 1,500 migrants have agreed to be deported to a third-party country in Africa, and around 7,000 have agreed to return to their home countries.
The PIBA statement said that in the first stage of the plan, representatives from PIBA would go to Holot and determine which group of detainees should be the first to leave Israel, versus those who still had asylum requests pending who would be allowed to stay for now.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.