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Following protest, Interior Ministry refuses to accept asylum requests

Activists splashed red paint and left mannequin heads at the entrance to the Population and Immigration Authority’s office in Tel Aviv. The Interior Ministry decided to collectively punish the asylum seekers in response.

A policeman surveys the results of a protest action outside of the Population and Immigration Authority's office in Tel Aviv on Saturday, January 27, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A policeman surveys the results of a protest action outside of the Population and Immigration Authority’s office in Tel Aviv on Saturday, January 27, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Israeli Interior Ministry said it was refusing to process any asylum claims Sunday morning as a collective punishment of sorts in response to a protest action against the planned deportation of tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

Unknown activists spilled red paint and left mannequin heads Saturday night at the entrance to the Tel Aviv office of the Population and Immigration Authority’s (PIBA), where Israeli authorities normally process asylum claims. The activists left notes that said, “Their blood is on your hands,” and “This won’t pass quietly for you, this is just the beginning.”

“After the government and the courts approved the policy, all that remained was to attack the clerk, to attack the messenger. It’s disgusting,” Daniel Solomon, legal advisor to Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, said during a radio interview Sunday morning. “So, naturally, today they’re not accepting [asylum] requests today as a protest and as a way to show support [for the clerks].”

Israel has granted refugee status to only one Sudanese man and 10 Eritrean nationals, all under special circumstances. An estimated 27,000 Eritrean and 8,000 Sudanese asylum seekers live in Israel. In comparison to Israel’s extremely low refugee recognition rates, globally, between 80 and 90 percent of Eritrean and 70 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers are recognized as refugees, according to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF).

Asked why Israel has reviewed only 7,000 out of the 15,000 asylum requests submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, Solomon, the PIBA legal advisor, replied, “anyone in Israel who has submitted an [asylum] request to date will be reviewed and will not be asked to leave the country without their case being reviewed.”

A police officer arrives at the scene of a protest action by unknown activists against the deportations. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A police officer arrives at the scene of a protest action by unknown activists against the deportations. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The government announced in early January that Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have three months to leave the country. Those who remain in Israel after the three months will face a stark choice: agree to be deported to Rwanda or Uganda, or indefinite imprisonment in Israel. Beginning in April, employers of asylum seekers will also be fined, and the $3,500 cash incentive being offered to asylum seekers to leave will be gradually reduced.

The Israeli government claims that a secret agreement with Rwanda allows for the deportation of asylum seekers to that country. Rwandan officials, however, have denied the existence of any secret agreement with Israel. “Let me be clear: Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will,” Rwandan Deputy Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe tweeted last week.  “Our ‘open doors’ policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint,” he added. “Any manipulation of women, men & children in distress is appalling.”

Hundreds of Asylum seekers, along with Israeli and international activists, protested the deportation plan outside the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya and at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem last week.

Protesters outside of the president's residence in Jerusalem on Monday night, January 22, 2018. (Yael Marom)

Protesters outside of the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday night, January 22, 2018. (Yael Marom)

Bucking the rising public pressure against the deportation plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on Sunday morning. “Rwanda is the safest place of all to return to the infiltrators to,” the prime minister said, using a derogatory term the Israeli government and press have adopted to refer to African refugees and asylum seekers. “The claims that it’s dangerous are a joke.”

Testimonies gathered from hundreds of asylum seekers who have left Israel to Rwanda and Uganda painting a grim picture of what awaits them upon their departure: torture, rape, mass and arbitrary imprisonment, and forced labor. In Rwanda, asylum seekers are often denied status and prohibited from working, according to those who have accepted Israel’s self-deportation package. Some are trafficked into Uganda, and from there choose to return to their home countries or to embark on the dangerous journey to Libya, in the hopes of eventually reaching the European coast.

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