NGOs reject Israeli asylum policy to migrants

Interior Minister Eli Yishai pens letter to PM urging mass arrests of Sudanese migrants, populating Negev detention facilities.

IDF watch over Sudanese migrants R370 (photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman/Reuters)
IDF watch over Sudanese migrants R370
(photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman/Reuters)
Human rights groups on Sunday published a blistering joint report rejecting the government’s arguments against accepting migrants and criticizing it for using force to deter Africans from entering the country.
The report was published just as Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a letter calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Justice Ministry to allow for the resumption of arrests of African migrants in Israel.
The NGOs – Human Rights Watch, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights – listed and rejected excuses for denying the migrants entry.
“Israeli authorities contend that asylum seekers to whom it denies entry can request asylum from Egyptian authorities, that Israel has the right to seal its borders, and that its obligations toward asylum seekers do not extend to those who are prevented from entering its territory.”
“None of these arguments are correct under the Refugee Convention or international human rights law,” the three rights groups said.
The report cites specific examples of IDF soldiers allegedly denying food and water to migrants, beating them with fists and guns and pushing them across the Israel-Egypt border with long metal poles.
The NGOs stated that the migrants face extreme violence if denied entry into Israel, including torture and rape by Sinai traffickers.
“There is simply no loophole justifying Israel’s denial of protection to asylum seekers by rejecting them at the border without fully considering their individual cases,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “To accept such a claim would be to accept the evisceration of refugee protection.”
Also on Sunday, Yishai called on Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to begin placing African migrants in detention facilities in the Negev.
Yishai sent a letter asking them to instruct the Justice Ministry to carry out a government decision to begin arresting the migrants, despite recent court decisions that have temporarily halted the plan and called its legality into question.
The interior minister said in the letter that court decisions against the plan “cancel and contradict decisions made by the government to place the Sudanese infiltrators in the facilities.”
Yishai, who only mentions Sudanese migrants in the letter and not Eritreans, who make up the majority of the migrants in Israel, adds “as you know, the problem of infiltration to Israel is one of the most difficult and complicated problems which Israel has dealt with since the founding of the state, a problem which threatens our identity, character, and future.”
The interior minister, who has been the most outspoken government voice against the “infiltrator problem,” added that while residents of Israel are shouting for help to deal with the problem “we remain deaf to their cries, in the face of a legal situation that ignores all the decisions made by the government.
My hands are tied as a result of the decisions made by the courts, which don’t hear the distress of the citizens of Israel.”
Yishai said this reality demands that we use the facilities for what they were intended and that “they weren’t built in vain in order to be ghost towns, rather, as facilities to house infiltrators before they are removed from the country.”
A source close to Yishai said the letter is directly related to the upcoming election in January, and Yishai’s desire to ensure that the “infiltrators issue” remains on the table, so that Shas doesn’t lose potential voters that it could draw from the Likud who are frustrated with Netanyahu’s handling of the issue.
The official said that the election campaign that Arye Deri plans to run for Shas will be based on social issues and will not highlight the African migrants issue. The source said that both Deri and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias will focus on a social issues campaign, which has left Yishai concerned that the migrant issue will fall off the agenda and cost Shas potential votes. He added that Yishai and Deri do not see eye to eye on the issue of migrants.
Last week, the state attorney requested that the court throw out an earlier order temporarily freezing any mass arrests of migrants, and dismiss a petition seeking a permanent freeze, in a response to a petition on Thursday before the Jerusalem District Court.
The state said that since no decision on the issue of mass deportations and arrests of African migrants has been made, there is no decision for the court to freeze, and the petitioners jumped the gun in filing their petition.
A group of NGOs filed a petition on October 3 seeking a freeze to mass arrests of migrants, which Yishai had vowed to carry out beginning on October 15. On October 11, the Jerusalem District Court issued an order freezing any impending mass arrests of migrants until a final hearing on October 30.
In response to the paper, the IDF said Sunday night that “in keeping with decisions made on the policy and governmental level, IDF troops work to prevent the illegal entry [to Israel] of infiltrators by way of Israel’s western border. IDF soldiers are not at this point in time returning infiltrators to Egypt who have crossed the fence and entered Israeli territory.
“IDF actions are carried out in accordance with international law and rulings of the Israeli High Court.”