+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Israel to indefinitely imprison asylum seekers who refuse deportation

In a move unprecedented in Western countries, Israel’s outgoing interior minister announces plan to compel asylum seekers to leave the country. Israel’s High Court has repeatedly struck down laws that authorized the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

African asylum seekers arrive at Israel’s Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, February 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org) Israel’s High Court has twice struck down the law allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

African asylum seekers arrive at Israel’s Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, February 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org) Israel’s High Court has twice struck down the law allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea will face deportation to third countries or face unlimited imprisonment in Israel under a new Interior Ministry policy set to be implemented in the coming days. Israel will provide asylum seekers 30 days notice, at the end of which, if one refuses to leave, they will face indefinite detention, according to a statement released by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority on Tuesday.

The two countries are said to be Rwanda and Uganda, though Israel has not divulged the information. Up until now, Israel has exerted pressure on asylum seekers to leave by holding them in the Holot detention facility and offering them cash to leave, either back to their home country or a third country. But it always required their written consent. The new policy would be entirely coercive: either they leave, or face indefinite imprisonment.

Six NGOs, among them the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, slammed the move as illegal, dangerous and yet expected.

“The initiative of the Ministry of Interior exposes what we’ve all known […] – there is no such thing as ‘voluntary departure.’ The decision of the minister of interior and attorney general removes the disguises the State employed before and makes it clear that Israel will work to deport asylum seekers in any way possible, including illegal ones,” the organizations said in a statement.

African asylum seekers at Israel’s Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, February 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org) Israel’s High Court has twice struck down the law allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

African asylum seekers at Israel’s Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, February 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org) Israel’s High Court has twice struck down the law allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

According to a report in Haaretz on Tuesday, there is no precedent in the Western world for this type of deportation of asylum seekers to third countries. Israel is a signatory of the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids compelling asylum seekers to leave a country with the threat of imprisonment.

Outgoing Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said the move will “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel in an honorable and safe way.” Human rights groups, however, say Rwanda and Uganda are not safe countries for asylum seekers leaving Israel, and that they have no legal status or protection once arriving, ultimately resulting in them leaving for yet another country.

It was not clear if the new measure would be implemented before Israel’s next interior minister, expected to be Shas chairman Arye Deri, is sworn in.

There are over 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals in Israel currently, of which around 2,000 are currently being held in the Holot detention facility. Fewer than 10 of them have been granted refugee status, with a refugee recognition rate of below one percent. Worldwide, Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers are granted refugee status at rates of 60, 70 and 80 percent.

Last September, Israel’s High Court ordered the Holot facility be shut down, striking down for the second time the law that authorized the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Instead of shutting the facility down, however, as its last act before adjourning for new elections, the Knesset passed a new law that authorizes the detention of asylum seekers for up to 20 months.

It would appear to directly contradict the reasoning behind both of the court decisions that struck down previous laws authorizing the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

The new policy is being described as a way for the State to expel those asylum seekers who might be released after a 20-month detention.

Those asylum seekers who are not imprisoned in Holot are denied many basic social and health services. Two days before the new policy was announced, a four-month-old baby died due to negligence in a south Tel Aviv day-care center for children of asylum seekers — the fifth to have died since February. The makeshift nurseries are overcrowded, understaffed and lacking government oversight and accountability.

Newsletter banner

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      Pure racism. Shows the boundless contempt for other races and the obsession with “purity” of the Jewish Right. It’s sick.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sticky Rice

        Ben, your statements are pure ignorance and bigotry. Shame on you

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Try not to be such a dick. Or a cunning runt or whatever. Loser.

          Reply to Comment
          • Sticky Rice

            Whatever you say you bigoted piece of shit

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh yeah, when you have no argument call them a bigot because everyone knows that if an obnoxious, bigoted little American diaspora assh0le twerp calls you a bigot it’s s e r i o u s! Whoah! Oooooh! LOL!

            Reply to Comment
          • Sticky Rice

            There is no argument. You said some ignorant, bigoted shit and I called you out on it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh you “called me out”? Is that what you did? In defense of a racist state that creates conditions where children die in detention and no one cares because they are not Jewish. W h o a h ! Awesome!

            Reply to Comment
    2. Linda Carraway

      Israel shows yet again its bigotry and lack of compassion for fellow human beings. Perhaps the Africans are more dark-skinned than white Israelis can handle?
      I guess that the skin color of those recruited from India to immigrate to Israel recently must have skin of perfect in-between color.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jello

        The fact of the hundred thousand or so Ethiopeans that Israel has invited and airlifted to Israel would poop on your stupid assertion.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Jello

      They are leaving. One way or another. There is zero reason for us to absorb a population of illegal young overwhelmingly male work migrants who entered the country illegally. We will not be turned into a dumping bin of the third world. The Europeans would be smart to adopt similar policies. The recent moves by Europe to ‘outsource’ patrols in the sea to Egypt and other north African countries are part of the realization in Europe that this is the case. Expect the touted European rates of granting asylum to illegal migrants to drop accordingly.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Sticky rice and jello. I think I’m gonna throw up.

        Reply to Comment
        • Cupcake

          Choke on it

          Reply to Comment
    4. Dutch Oven

      Thank you! This is helpful.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      How is an asylum seeker in a position to refuse deportation, and why would Israel want the expense and responsibility of keeping them in a prison? I think these asylum seekers are seeking a job, not the destruction of Israel. Take it easy.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Here is an Israeli response to Jello’s “They are leaving. One way or another”:

      http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.650369

      A people that knows all too well the suffering of persecution and exile, of all peoples, is becoming a persecutor and perpetrating exile

      Reply to Comment