African migrants painted in white hold signs during a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport part of their community, in front of the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya, Israel February 7, 2018.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Despite promises to announce an agreement by Tuesday afternoon with a third-party country for deporting Israel’s African migrants, the state continued to waver before the High Court of Justice about whether it has closed such a deal.
Asked several times point blank by the justices whether there was deal, the state dodged dizzyingly left and right with vague phrases, until it finally said it would give another update within 48 hours.
On Tuesday morning, the state filed a legal brief to update the High Court, following April’s chaotic series of contradictory government policy announcements, in which it said that a deal would likely be signed within hours.
It also revealed that 1,749 migrants have already been deported to the country since 2015.
The state did not identify the voluntary or non-voluntary circumstances of deportations to the country, widely reported to be Uganda, but revealed more statistics about the deportations than have been previously revealed.
According to the state, 485 migrants were deported to the third-party country in 2015, 506 in 2016, 630 in 2017 and 128 to date in 2018.
Migrants, activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv protest Netanyahu's scrapping of relocation deal, April 3, 2018 (Reuters/Tamara Zieve)
All of this is despite statements by Uganda that it is not accepting migrants from Israel.
However, the justices confronted the state with Uganda’s denials of a deal and demanded a straight answer when the state at first said that there was a deal already two months ago, then inexplicably said that it was still checking aspects of updates to the deal.
Finally, when the court asked whether the country would receive migrants on an airplane if it landed there right now, the state asked for 48 hours to make additional clarifications.
The state also held a closed session without the migrants’ lawyers present, in which it answered additional questions of the court regarding the developments with the destination country.
Separately, the migrants’ lawyers also committed to updating their petitions in light of the changed government policies.
Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government was halting its policy of either deporting migrants to Rwanda or detaining those who refused deportation, in favor of a deal with the UN to facilitate deportation of around 16,000 migrants to Western countries, with another 20,000 plus migrants being allowed to stay in Israel.
However, only hours later Netanyahu suspended the UN deal. By the next day, he had reneged on the deal, with the state telling the court it was going to try to replace Rwanda with a different third-party country.
Tuesday’s brief reiterated that the government’s envoy to the country has affirmed that the treatment of African migrants being deported there meets the High Court’s required standard. Human rights groups have disputed such assurances in the past as flying in the face of voluminous anecdotes and information they have received from deported migrants.
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