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Israel set to deport detained Eritrean asylum seekers

Detained asylum seekers in the Saharonim prison in southern Israel have told human rights representatives that 15 Eritrean prisoners are about to be deported to Eritreaaccording to the Hotline for Migrant Workers.

Some 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers have been jailed in the desert facility for more than a year. Israel, after ignoring their asylum applications for months, began rejecting them en masse last month, despite reports indicating that deportees could face torture upon return, and that 74 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers are recognized as refugees worldwide.

The 15 Eritreans are slated for deportation in what Israel calls a “Voluntary Return” procedure, and many more are expected to follow. The procedure is grossly misnamed, however, as it is widely accepted that the deportation of asylum seekers from prison can never be considered voluntary. (Israeli officials in Saharonim regularly tell the asylum seekers that the only way they can expect to get out of jail is by getting on a plane.) Earlier this year, UNHCR condemned Israel’s efforts to deport Eritreans from prison, noting that “agreement to return to Eritrea under a jail ultimatum cannot be considered voluntary by any criterion.”

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    1. ‘it is widely accepted that the deportation of asylum seekers from prison can never be considered voluntary. (Israeli officials in Saharonim regularly tell the asylum seekers that the only way they can expect to get out of jail is by getting on a plane.) Earlier this year, UNHCR condemned Israel’s efforts to deport Eritreans from prison, noting that “agreement to return to Eritrea under a jail ultimatum cannot be considered voluntary by any criterion.”’

      Israel is turning away from international standards of jurisprudence in doing this without any true crisis forcing this play. As long as outsiders are so treated, the electorate will either not care or approve. But I remain convinced that these whims against law will ultimate come to infect Israeli citizen law proper. The rule of law is an intellectual commitment; without it, raw coalition rules.

      Reply to Comment
      • Adam Dayton

        It’s widely accepted? Kindly provide wide opinio juris and state practice demonstrating this.

        Otherwise, it’s clearly not widely accepted.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The rule of law is not at stake here. What is at stake is whether Israeli sovereign law or the whims of international agencies determine policy.

        The rule of law determines who is allowed and who isn’t allowed to enter Israel. The rule of law determines which illegal migrants are allowed to stay and which are expelled. The rule of Israeli law govern here, not the recommendations or declarations of the UNHCR.

        Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      “agreement to return to Eritrea under a jail ultimatum” essentially means that there is no real danger to those who are agreeing.

      Widely referred to “UNHCR’s 2012 Detention Guidelines” are not “international law” of any kind.

      “reports indicating that deportees could face torture upon return” are 4 years old.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kanadi

        The Detention Guidelines are not themselves international law, but they are interpretation of article 31 of the International Refugee Convention, which clearly states that undue penalties, including arbitrary detention, are to be avoided if at all possible, if asylum seekers present themselves immediately to the proper authorities without delay.

        “The 1951 Convention establishes a regime of rights and responsibilities for refugees. In most cases, only if an individual’s claim to refugee status is examined before he or she is affected by an exercise of State jurisdiction (for example, in regard to penalization for ‘illegal’entry), can the State be sure that its international obligations are met. Just as a decision on the merits of a claim to refugee status is generally the only way to ensure that the obligation of non-refoulement is observed, so also is such a decision essential to ensure that penalties are not imposed on refugees, contrary to Article 31 of the 1951 Convention.”


        This isn’t only, or even mostly an Israeli problem. Canada just changed its rules to allow a year of detention (even for minors!) who arrive in an “irregular” manner. Australia has even outsourced its detention facilities. This site is an incredible resource mapping the growing use of detention globally: http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/
        But something being common practice does not make it right, ethical, legal, or even effective in terms of cost or outcomes. Supporting people in communities, according to Australian studies, costs up to 4 times less than holding them in detention.

        Most Eritreans and Sudanese I know are more “Israeli”, and speak better Hebrew than most Olim I know – that’s what happens when you start from the bottom and have no choice but to survive. It’s clear that if Israel is going to avoid the human catastrophe of a mass deportation, given that there is now a stable population of about 50,000 asylum seekers, some sort of social residency system, with perhaps a path to citizenship built in (but likely not, given the demographic neurosis of the State), is going to have to happen. A huge proportion of asylum seekers are trained professionals (teachers, nurses, scientists, artists…) whose lives are being wasted flipping watermelons and cleaning beaches.

        It’s high time Israel recognize that “Israeli” does not equal “Jewish”, that Israel has a secular Hebrew culture that black Christians can easily fit into and adapt to without “endangering the Jewish character of the state”, which is itself more smoke and mirrors than anything substantial.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Yep. This is how it works. First there is a demand that Israel open up its borders to anyone that shows up, hence the uproar when Israel built a wall to prevent infiltration. I remember articles on this very site that made bold claims that the wall would fail in that regard.

          Once they show up the demand becomes a path to residency or citizenship because it is a ‘stable’ population. Anyone opposing legalizing people that by definition are in the country illegally is branded either a racist or as someone flirting with the ‘catastrophe’ of deportation.

          Deporting someone who has entered the country illegally is not a catastrophe. It is the correct way of enforcing the rule of law. The faster it is done the less damage is done to all concerned.

          Reply to Comment
    3. reion

      Israel we do not forget this we will see it together it is shame on shame, shame, shame lets me ask you one question how could you forgot your history your people had a refugee more than others but all world resettled

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Our history was one of being powerless to control our fate. Now that we are able to do so we are not about to be overrun by millions of third world ‘refugees’ with the eventual and inevitable outcome of us being powerless again.

        Reply to Comment

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