Amnesty International blasts Israel’s ‘cruel’ migrant deportations

NGO says it documented transfers that don’t meet standards for voluntariness, are illegal.

An African migrant wears a T-shirt with a Hebrew phrase referring to the Holocaust," I promise to remember... and never forget!" in south Tel Aviv July 17, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An African migrant wears a T-shirt with a Hebrew phrase referring to the Holocaust," I promise to remember... and never forget!" in south Tel Aviv July 17, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amnesty International slammed Israel for its deportations and “voluntary” transfers of African migrants in a report on Monday, titled: “Forced and Unlawful: Israel’s Deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum-Seekers to Uganda.”
At the end of last year, Israel announced that in April it would start deporting migrants to third countries, widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda.
In March, the High Court of Justice put a temporary freeze on the state’s policy to deport African migrants. Amnesty, however, noted that “voluntary” transfers of migrants, taking place since 2013, have continued to Uganda.
In January, Interior Minister Arye Deri outlined a plan to offer migrants a cash incentive to voluntarily leave, according to which any migrant in the country who agrees to be sent to their home country or to a third country by March 2018 would receive $3,500, plus funds for their flight and assistance in arranging travel documents. Alternatively, they risked being sent to jail.
“Amnesty International has documented transfers that do not meet standards for voluntariness and are cruel and illegal,” it said in a press release.
The report charges that Israeli officials issued documents and provided verbal assurances to deportees that they will receive a residence permit in Uganda to allow them to work and protect them from forcible return to their home country, but that the Ugandan government has consistently denied the existence of any agreement for the reception of Israel’s deportees.
Asylum seekers interviewed by Amnesty International said that once in Uganda, instead of being granted a residence permit, they had irregular migration status, leaving them at risk of detention, without the possibility to work and the risk of forcible return to their country of origin.
Amnesty International says that the transfers of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers from Israel, even if the government of Israel considers them voluntary, are illegal under international law as they violate the principle of non-refoulement.
The Amnesty report includes 30 interviews the NGO conducted with Eritrean and Sudanese migrants, including people deported to Uganda and Rwanda from Israel – some of whom were still in Israel, and one man who had been forcibly returned to Sudan.
The report slams Israel for putting asylum seekers in a position where they must choose between deportation to a third country, return to their countries of origin or indefinite detention.
“Israel’s dysfunctional asylum system has left Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers in limbo for years,” said Charmain Mohamed, Refugee and Migrant Rights head at Amnesty International. “These people, who came to Israel seeking safety, have been met with prolonged detention and violations of their basic human rights to asylum, health and safety. They are now facing the equally bleak prospects of being deported to an unknown country or being sent back to the persecution from which they fled.”
“We are calling on the Israeli government to halt these procedures, grant asylum-seekers access to a fair and effective refugee status determination procedure and a pathway for legal status in Israel.”
An Eritrean asylum seeker, who spoke to Amnesty in March from Saharonim Prison in the Negev, where he had been detained since November 2017 after refusing to go to Rwanda, said: “Every day, all the time, the prison guards and the Interior Ministry officers tell me that it would be better for me to go to Rwanda. They say: ‘If you don’t leave for Rwanda, you will leave Israel in a coffin’… But I have friends in Rwanda who tell me not to come, that the situation there is very difficult.
“I prefer to die in Eritrea, so that my mother can visit my grave, than to go to Rwanda or Uganda. I have nothing there,” he added.
The situation of migrants in Israel has been in limbo since April, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new agreement reached with the United Nation High Commission on Refugees, only to cancel it less than 24 hours later, caving to pressure by opponents of the deal.
The deal reached between the Prime Minister’s Office and the UNHCR stipulated that Israel could deport some 16,000 migrants to Western countries, while granting a “suitable” legal status to some 16,000 others.