African migrants sit at the Holot open detention center in the Negev in Southern Israel.
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
Amid ongoing legislation to forcefully deport tens of thousands of African refugees to Rwanda, the Population and Migration Authority on Sunday released a report claiming no “infiltrators” entered Israel in 2017.
Moreover, according to data submitted by the authority, 4,012 illegal residents voluntarily left the country, of whom 3,332 were from wartorn Sudan or Eritrea. Still, approximately 35,000 African asylum seekers remain in the country in varying states of legal limbo.
Over the past year, a total of 2,550 asylum requests were made by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, 7,710 requests were made by Ukrainians, and 7,710 were made by Georgian nationals, the authority said.
However, the government continues to ignore the thousands of African asylum applications that it has received over the years.
The issue of heightened border security reached a fever pitch in 2011, when 17,000 African migrants – most of whom the government referred to as “infiltrators” – entered the country, bringing the total to 64,000 by 2012.
Last year only 18 African asylum seekers entered Israel, while 220 entered in 2015, the authority said.
Presently, the majority of African refugees reside in impoverished southern Tel Aviv, where the government directed them by giving oneway bus tickets after crossing the Egyptian border. Thousands of others have spent years in and out of two detention facilities in the Negev, one of which is scheduled to be permanently shuttered.
Interior Minister Arye Deri praised the complete border shutout in 2017, adding that in the coming weeks the government will begin the process of forcibly removing African refugees to Rwanda following a deal arranged with that government to receive $5,000 a person.
“We are now embarking on a big operation of infiltrating the infiltrators into a third country, and there are only two options for infiltrators: Voluntarily exit, or indefinite detention,” he said.
Meanwhile, Yossi Edelstein, the Enforcement and Foreign Affairs Administration head in the Population and Immigration Authority, claimed that many of the requests for asylum are fraudulent.
“Unfortunately, the subjects abuse the asylum mechanism that exists in the State of Israel,” he said.
Nonetheless, human rights organizations continue to decry – as inhumane and antithetical to Jewish values – the policy of forcibly removing African refugees to a country as perilous as Rwanda.
“Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees,” the Center for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel, the Association for Assistance to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the African Refugee Development Center wrote in a joint letter.
“Israel is deporting refugees to an insecure country, and many of them will die,” they said. “Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking.”
Moreover, the consortium of NGOs noted that the government is deliberately preventing African refugees from applying for asylum because once an application is submitted, the applicant cannot be deported until a decision is rendered.