Statement on Israel’s latest deportation scheme
Published: 22 Feb 2018
On 1 January, the Israeli government announced a new plan to coerce all Eritreans and Sudanese asylum seekers to leave the country by the end of March 2018. Those leaving within this period will receive a grant of USD 3,500 in cash upon their departure and a free one-way ticket. Those who will remain, will face indefinite imprisonment. Earlier this month, the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority began issuing deportation notices to Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers.
Eritreans and Sudanese who are unwilling to return to their countries of origin are being requested to leave for “third countries” in Africa. Israel claims that it has reached agreements with two countries and that the asylum seekers transferred from Israel are granted a legal status in these countries. It also claims that these agreements are confidential and therefore has never made them available to the general public or to asylum seekers in Israel. It has been widely reported that the two “third countries” are Rwanda and Uganda. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments, however, have consistently denied being parties to an agreement with Israel
Whether or not agreements exist with these two countries, transfers of asylum seekers from Israel to Uganda and Rwanda began in late 2013. The scheme was later challenged in the Israeli courts. In August 2017, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israel may continue to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, provided that post-transfer monitoring mechanisms are in place, and that people’s safety in these countries is guaranteed. The Court also held that since the agreement only allows for relocations to be voluntary, Israel may not imprison indefinitely those who refuse to leave the country. However, after the ruling, the Israeli government announced that it has amended its agreement and that forced deportations were now possible. This was again denied by Rwanda.
In 2015, IRRI’s report “I was left with nothing” documented how Eritreans and Sudanese sent by Israel were arriving in Uganda and Rwanda. None of the individuals we spoke to were given legal status on arrival, and they remained undocumented, facing significant obstacles in accessing the local asylum system. Many failed to secure legal status in either country and with no means to sustain themselves and few if any links in Rwanda or Uganda, migrated irregularly to other countries in Africa and Europe. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recently stated that it has identified 80 Eritreans who left Israel to “third countries” and then travelled onward to Italy. Israeli researchers in Europe have documented similar cases of Eritreans who have arrived in other European countries.
Transfers of asylum seekers have continued throughout 2016 and 2017 and despite Israeli promises that the problems in the implementation of the schemes have been resolved, those individuals IRRI has spoken to since the publication of our 2015 report and as late as December 2017 still faced the same problems documented in 2015: none had been granted a legal status following his transfer and none has been provided, prior to his transfer, with clear instructions on how to legalise his status at the destination. Moreover, the seemingly informal nature in which these individuals have been let into the country left them in an ambiguous position vis-à-vis the local authorities. This is compounded by the regular assertions by the authorities of Uganda and Rwanda that asylum seekers from Israel are not supposed to be in these countries in the first place.
A large number of those who have been, and will be, transferred from Israel are eligible for international protection, even though Israel has failed to recognise them as refugees. The Israeli asylum system is dysfunctional and if considered at all, asylum requests in Israel are not being considered fairly and in accordance with international standards. As UNHCR recently acknowledged, asylum claims of Eritreans and Sudanese are being systematically rejected or remain under consideration for years.
Israel’s deportation plan is not only illegal, but also flies in the face of the principles of international cooperation and responsibility-sharing underlying the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. Israel clearly has the capacity and resources to assist those 37,000 currently seeking shelter within its territory.