Rights organisations call on Israel to respect its legal obligations to refugees and to halt summary expulsions at the border

by zoejardiniere

02.11.2012 Human Rights Watch (HRW), along with the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights, has published a report urging Israel to abide by its obligations and halt its abusive practices towards asylum seekers.

Since June 2012 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been customarily preventing asylum seekers from reaching Israeli territory and, in some cases, illegally deporting them back into Egypt when they have succeeded in crossing the border, the NGOs warn.

At the border in the Sinai region with Egypt, Israel has been building a new 240km fence in order to prevent the inflow of refugees from Africa. According to Israeli government figures, two thirds of individuals arriving at this border are nationals of Eritrea, one of world’s most repressive countries.

Reports of IDF soldiers using violence to repel asylum seekers at the borders are frequent, as are accounts of Israeli authorities handing over refugees to Egyptian officials in the desert. At least 40 individuals are known to have been returned to Egypt having first reached Israel and on at least seven occasions, groups of Eritreans have been blocked from crossing the border.

The report opposes Israel’s actions and argues that international refugee and human rights law, by-which Israel is bound, strictly prohibits the summary rejection of asylum seekers at the border without individual examination of their claim and protects against refoulement to somewhere where they risk persecution. The organisations underlined that the obligation against refoulement applies under all circumstances in all places.

HRW have previously reported that Eritreans specifically face the risk of deportation back to Eritrea from Egypt, thus putting Israel in a position of responsibility for initiating chain- refoulement.

In related news, Israel’s High Court has this week issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the mass arrest of Sudanese asylum seekers. The injunction remains in place pending a court decision on the constitutionality of a new law, known as the ‘Anti-Infiltration Law’, enacted in January 2012. Under this law, which was also criticised by HRW in June, all Sudanese inhabitants of Israel would be detained without trial for a minimum of three years and potentially indefinitely.

Under the current Israeli asylum system, Eritrean and Sudanese nationals (making up about 89% of asylum seekers in the country) are not permitted to enter the Israeli Refugee Status Determination (RSD) system, which itself has a recognition rate of lower than 1%. Thus these people are denied access to asylum procedures and are branded not refugees, but ‘infiltrators’ and ‘economic migrants’ by the state.

Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, has made clear that his intention is to jail ‘African migrants’ in order to ‘make their lives miserable’ and thus convince them to leave, as they represent, in his opinion, an ‘existential threat’ to Israel. Yishai’s proposed to give the Sudanese until 15 October to leave the country, or face indefinite detention.

A group of six Israeli human rights organisations, along with six Sudanese nationals residing in Israel have taken the matter to court and await the judgment.

For further information:

–                     Haaretz article on planned round-ups of Sudanese nationals in Israel, including survivors of the Darfur genocide.

–                     Sudan Tribune article about protests against the proposal for mass arrests.

–                     Video of Israeli citizens’ far-right anti-foreigner protest in Tel Aviv

–                     AlJazeera article on Israel’s practice of blocking asylum seekers’ entry

–                     Joel Moss of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) talks about his disappointment in Israel’s asylum system

–                     HIAS attempts to establish a functioning protection system for Africans in Israel