The Israeli government is not deporting asylum seekers to Eritrea or Sudan by force.
For more than a decade Israeli government policy toward asylum seekers from these two countries has been based on the denial of every right that can be denied, and upon embittering their lives while in our country. Why? To make them declare that they want to leave. If they say they want to leave, they will be sent to their home countries.
A few years ago third party states Uganda and Rwanda agreed to accept those who agreed to go willingly. Later, as we are told by our government, a formal agreement was signed with Rwanda, according to which asylum seekers will be sent there, even if against their will. That means that Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel will be arrested if they do not agree to leave willingly, and will be deported to Rwanda.
This is the large deportation operation that was set to begin in recent days.
But, the Rwandan government has denied that it is willing to accept people that are sent against their free will. So the public struggle has essentially succeeded. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Interior Minister Deri have now announced that it is not possible to deport to Rwanda, and with that the deportation operation met its end.
The Israeli government has signed an agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) – an agreement that the UNHCR has been trying to advance for a long time – and according to which UNHCR will help Israel resettle over 16 thousand asylum seekers to Western countries using family reunification and resettlement clauses. In return, the State of Israel has been requested to commit to affording some form of legal status to those who remain, and to ensure them humane treatment and dignified living conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also ordered the creation of a task force that will begin rehabilitating South Tel Aviv.
The issue however, is that after so many years of singing the same tune: “the worse it is for them, the better it is for us”, it’s now near impossible to flip the record over. For the political parties Likud, the Jewish Home, and Kulanu, and among the men and women who are advocating against the asylum seekers, it is inconceivable that what is good for the asylum seekers can be good for us too. They have immediately called for an alternative deportation plan, and in response Prime Minister Netanyahu initially suspended and eventually cancelled the agreement with UNHCR.
Does this mean that we are reverting back to the deportation plan to Rwanda? Definitely not. This plan has collapsed. So what is going on? Today the Israeli government announced that it would attempt to forcibly deport to Uganda, but the Ugandan Foreign Minister has already declared that his country will not receive deportees from Israel and that any that did arrive would be returned. In the meantime, our government is providing no alternatives.
Everyone is still here – no one is going anywhere – and we continue to embitter their lives, without giving them status or rights. In the meantime, what has been up until now, continues to be.
Adv. Oded Feller
Director of the Legal Department
Published on YNET on April 3rd, 2018 (Hebrew)