Amnesty Int'l: Israel must protect Syrian refugees

Rights group urges Israel not to forcibly return Syrians that potentially flee to Israeli side of Golan Heights in letter to Barak; defense minister had said Israel preparing to stop "flood of refugees."

July 21, 2012 17:26
2 minute read.
Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria.

Golan Border (R370). (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Amnesty International has urged Israel to take "necessary steps" to ensure anyone fleeing Syria be allowed to benefit from effective and systematic protection procedures in a letter sent to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday.

The statement came after Barak was quoted as saying he would act to prevent Syrian refugees from entering Israel.

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"They [refugees] have not chosen to come close to us, but in the event of the regime's downfall, which could happen...,[Israeli forces] here are alert and ready, and if we have to stop waves of refugees, we will stop them," Barak said on Thursday during a tour of the Golan area, according to Reuters.

An Israeli defense source, however, noted that Barak, in his comments, spoke only about preventing a flood of refugees, apparently not closing the door completely to Syrians seeking safety.

Barak’s statement was particularly relevant in light of severe escalation in the level of violence across Syria following an attack on 18 July which killed the Syrian defense minister, his deputy, the assistant vice-president and the head of national security in Damascus.

Amnesty International stated in the letter to Barak: "Anyone fleeing Syria– where all the evidence suggests that crimes against humanity and war crimes are being committed on a mass scale against the population– [should] be allowed to benefit from safeguards to prevent their forcible return to Syria, where they may face serious human rights abuses including torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killing, and prolonged incommunicado detention."

The UN refugee agency last month doubled its forecast for the number of refugees who will flee Syria this year to 185,000.

Israel has an obligation to protect all individuals against refoulement (as enshrined under international refugee law, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol), according to the Amnesty International letter. This requires that the authorities allow individuals full access to protection - any actions or omissions on their part which result in anyone in flight being rejected at the Syrian/Israeli-controlled Golan Heights border would constitute refoulement in violation of Israel’s international obligations.

Amnesty International has raised concerns in the past about Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, including longstanding concerns about the lack of fairness, consistency and transparency in its Refugee Status Determination (RSD) system. The rights group stated that as a result of these failures, less than 200 individuals have been granted refugee status - which is less than 1 percent of all applicants - since the establishment of Israel in 1948, and despite the fact that there are over 50,000 asylum-seekers in the country today.

Amnesty International has also addressed its campaigning efforts to other countries which neighbor Syria and which continue to host tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

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