UN rep warns against expelling refugees

Exclusive: UN refugee body's Israel envoy slams lack of review process for Africans facing deportation.

sudanese refugees 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
sudanese refugees 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Israel representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Miki Bavli, sent an unprecedented letter of protest to the Israel Police over the weekend warning that Israel lacks a proper review process for refugees and must not consider expelling those who are in mortal danger in their countries of origin. The private letter, leaked to The Jerusalem Post, was a response to a government request for help in gaining travel documents for refugees from countries who do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. It is addressed to Cmdr. Bertie Ohayon, head of police operations. Bavli, who is widely considered to be understanding of Israel's difficulties in dealing with the flow of African refugees into Israel from the Sinai, writes that the procedure governing refugee review is "completely opposed to proper procedure governing asylum seekers and their security." In particular, he protests the arrest of "people holding [UN] protection papers," the lack of a review process when deciding whether to deport a refugee, and Israeli officials engaging in direct communication with embassies. "Specifically in the case of Eritrea," he explains in the letter, "by bringing the refugees' names to the embassy's attention, they would face mortal danger should they ever be returned to Eritrea. The practical implication of this action means that, in the best case scenario, they will never be able to leave Israel." Of the government request relating to countries that do not have embassies in Israel, Bavli warned that, if this is a reference to Sudan, Bavli notes, "removal of Sudanese to Sudan is a breach of the convention that Israel has signed in its most serious form. This will represent a crime that has not yet been committed" by any country. The 1951 International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states that no signatory state may send a person back to his state if the expulsion would place the person in danger. The convention was developed in the wake of the Jewish experience of being unable to flee the impending Nazi genocide, and Israel and many Jewish organizations at the time were influential in its formulation. Reached by The Jerusalem Post, the UNHCR representative noted that he did not accuse Israel of committing a crime, but warned that if there were such an intent, it should not take place. He said he has "full guarantees" from the government that this will not take place. "Such a refugee is doubly threatened," he said, and "triply in our case. First, he fled his state, which is illegal in their case. Second, he insulted his country. And third, the Sudanese fled to Israel, which is in itself a crime." The Israel Police noted that it arrested some 200 illegal immigrants without papers in the past week, in keeping with Israeli government policy. A representative said the review process was in the hands of the Interior and Justice ministries.