NGO: Migrants should go back to Sudan post-normalization

An NGO involved with immigration says that an increasing number of Sudanese migrants in Israel should be on their way back now that Israel and Sudan have reached a normalization deal.

Migrants dance with flag of South Sudan (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Migrants dance with flag of South Sudan
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
An NGO involved with immigration says that an increasing number of Sudanese migrants in Israel should be on their way back now that Israel and Sudan have reached a normalization deal.
In a recent interview, Yonatan Jakubowicz, executive director of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, an NGO that campaigns for deporting Africans who arrived in Israel illegally, said that “Sudan is an interesting case because we have developments at the same time on two fronts.”
He was referring to Jerusalem’s recent normalization deal with Khartoum as well as certain recent rulings and policy decisions by various European judicial bodies.
“It is important to stress, which people don’t always understand, that the main issue with returning [African migrants] to Sudan in general was that Israel didn’t have [diplomatic] relations with Sudan. That was the official position,” he said.
Jakubowicz said that, “regardless of people who come from different areas – Darfur, the Nuba Mountains – there was a claim by pro-migrant NGOs that even people who were economically [motivated] migrants… and even people from Arab descent, would be in danger if they went back to Sudan because they would be punished for entering Israel and being on Israeli soil.”
Summarizing what he called a contradiction in this argument, he said, “They weren’t refugees when they left – but they became refugees after they left.”
He acknowledged that “there is some basis for this claim, because Sudan and Israel not only did not have relations, but also viewed each other as enemy states,” noting a Sudanese law carrying a 10-year prison sentence for those entering Israel.
“But de facto that wasn’t the situation. Population and Immigration Borders Authority (PIBA) statistics say that close to 6,000 refugees went back directly to Sudan between 2012 and the start of the pandemic in 2020,” he said.
Continuing, he said “the truth is that the Sudanese government did not put in much effort to track people coming back,” and most were not harassed at all.
RETURNING TO his main argument that Israel-Sudan normalization should be a game-changer for legally sending Sudanese back to their country he said that, “with the new development now, that claim is off the table. I cannot say high profile activists with a specific case might not face danger. But as a broad claim, Israel signed an agreement [with Sudan] so there is no broad danger.”
Interestingly, Jakubowicz said that, “The majority of the Sudanese already left Israel. Of the around 6,500 Sudanese left in Israel, about 4,500 claim to be from Darfur – and another 2,000 can return [to Sudan] theoretically immediately.”
He agreed that there were some temporary, practical issues with this, such as the pandemic.
But as the pandemic clears up, he said, “Every country that has international relations currently returns asylum seekers to Sudan. I do not see why Israel would not be able to return migrants to a country with whom it has relations.”
In terms of tactics for getting Sudanese to leave Israel, he said that Israeli law specifies that, “an illegal migrant can be held indefinitely in administrative detention if he fails to cooperate to return” to his country of origin, where there is no bar to returning. “In such a situation, the state may say that he must go back or face detention.”
Another issue he acknowledged was that, “Since Israel’s relations [with Sudan] are new, the government might not want to go ahead right away with a big operation of mass deportations.”
For example, Jakubowicz said, “I don’t expect that in July there will be a big massive change. But you might see legal changes on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think that legally there is any reason Israel would not be able to deport people, but the government might not want to rattle the boat,” with normalization still in its early stages.
 
ONE PRACTICAL situation where he said there could be a close to immediate impact was a case his NGO submitted to the district court last month.
Explaining that the law says “any migrant who presents a danger to public safety must be held in detention,” he noted an exception that “the Supreme Court says if there is no foreseeable possibility of deportation, they cannot hold people indefinitely.”
In the case in question, a Sudanese man who had come into Israel sometime before 2012 went back to Sudan in 2012, and then came back to Israel in 2015.
“He was later arrested for assault and admitted he came back for economic reasons. Still, the court said since there was no removal possibility in the near future, they had to set him free,” since the case started before normalization was completed.
Remarking that, “We submitted a petition that this is wrong and illegal regardless of normalization. But now that there is normalization,” the court might change its ruling as his legal status may change.
Even if the government is not forcibly sending back a massive number of African migrants, the state could tell them that they will be deported to Sudan – and if they refuse, they will be held until they cooperate, Jakubowicz stated.
Next, he explained, “We have a disagreement with the [pro-migrant NGO] Hotline. They say around 4,500 migrants from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains cannot go back. That is not the legal situation in the world.”
Besides Israel-Sudan normalization, he cited that, “Since 2018, some countries have started to forcibly return people from those areas, including Italy, Australia and France.”
Moreover, he cited a string of European court rulings, including some from fall 2020, in which he reported that courts said that there is “no broad danger to people from Darfur since although the situation in Darfur could still be volatile,” there are close to a million Darfurians living in Khartoum. “The situation there is not optimal, but there is no persecution.”
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants generally disagrees with Jakubowicz’s group regarding interpretation of court decisions and how safe situations are in migrants’ countries of origin.
Some of the rulings have some highly case specific issues, but generally his point was that Darfurians could return to calmer parts of Sudan without having to go back to Darfur.