Human rights groups petition against state's 'hot return' policy for refugees

The organizations demand that the gov't give those who cross the border a chance to apply for asylum.

Five human rights organizations on Tuesday petitioned the High Court of Justice against the government's policy of "hot return" of refugees, whereby the IDF immediately sends refugees who have crossed the border from the Sinai desert back to Egypt. The petition was filed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, Physicians for Human Rights and Assaf: the Organization to Help Refugees and Asylum Seekers. The organizations, represented by attorneys Yonatan Berman and Anat Ben-Dor, demanded that the government give those who cross the border the opportunity to meet with the Israeli representative of the UN Commissioner for Refugees to apply for asylum. Furthermore, they called on the authorities to investigate each request individually to determine whether the particular applicant faces danger either in his home country or the country to which he is to be expelled. The authorities should also have to grant a hearing to anyone who has entered the country illegally before making the final decision to expel him. During the period between his arrest and expulsion, anyone who enters the country illegally should be allowed to meet with human rights activists who can explain to him his rights. The petition comes in the wake of an incident 10 days ago, when the army forced 48 people, including 18 children, to return to Egypt one day after they had crossed into Israel. Forty-four of the people came from Sudan. The expulsion was carried out in accordance with the "hot return" regulation which was approved several months ago by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. It is only the second time the regulation has been enforced, but the petitioners said they feared it would become common practice as the number of refugees crossing into Israel dramatically increases. "Expulsion in accordance with the regulation known as 'hot return' denies those who are expelled not only the right to plead their case or request asylum in Israel, but also access to the courts," the petitioners wrote. "After they are arrested, they are held for a few hours in detention and then immediately expelled without being given the chance to turn to any organization for help in initiating legal procedures against their expulsion." The petitioners also argued that the regulation violated the international principle of 'non-refoulement,' that is, the prohibition against expelling someone to a place where his life is in danger. "Expelling someone without examining his case individually or giving him the chance to apply for asylum is a violation of the principle which is protected in Israeli domestic law, as well as international contractual and customary law," the petitioners charged.