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Israel considers mass-deportations of African asylum seekers to Africa

On October 27, 2010

The site of Israel's leading newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported today that Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering offering African leaders millions of dollars in exchange for their acceptance of deported African asylum seekers who have entered Israel. Such a plan was proposed back in 2008 and was never carried out.

According to the report Netanyahu is personally handling the matter, and is considering steps that "will shake up" the State. These steps include opening secret negotiations with African leaders who will be offered millions of dollars in exchange for accepting the asylum seekers Israel will forcibly transfer to those countries. Another option being considered is to forge an agreement with African countries and finance building refugee camps there for the asylum seekers deported from Israel.

According to the current Netanyahu government, the asylum seekers, who make up about 27,000 people (0.2% of the Israeli population) are a threat to Israel's "delicate demographic balance". Alongside these planned negotiations with African countries, Israel will begin constructing a fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border starting next month to prevent infiltrations from Sinai, which is the route African refugees use to enter Israel.

The report misleadingly calls the asylum seekers "illegal work migrants" and again repeats the official Israeli government's stance that only a few of the asylum seekers are entitled to a refugee status. However, Israeli reports to the UN admit that 90% of the African asylum seekers are entitled to a refugee status. Israel refuses to even accept claims for refugee status and simply allows the asylum seekers to stay in Israel and fend for themselves.

Since Israel has no way of guaranteeing that the asylum seekers it deports will not face danger in the African countries that agree to accept them in exchange for money, this proposal contradicts customary international law that Israel is bound to, which includes the principle of non-refoulment that prohibits the return of a person to a place where he is expected to suffer persecution. The Israeli Supreme Court recognized Israel's obligation to follow this principle based on the Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty which enshrines the right to life.

Sigal Rosen of Hotline for Migrant Workers, an Israeli NGO assisting refugees and migrant workers told that "every several months another Israeli decision maker or a member of parliament gets up and declares to whoever is ready to hear him that there is a need to deport all refugees back to Africa. Ignoring the immoral aspect of the plan, those who fantasize about the deportation of refugees to Africa forget that their plan is illegal both from international law and Israeli law points of view. It might be possible to find the African leader who will agree to accept Sudanese and Eritrean refugees for the right amount of money. It will be totally impossible to guaranty the safety of these refugees after their deportation."

The ongoing incitement by the Israeli government against the African refugees who have escaped genocide and oppression in their countries is now being used to justify this barbaric and illegal plan. The Netanyahu government has a track record of making outrageous and racist proposals and rarely following through on them. We must make sure this plan too is never carried out.

UPDATE: An official response from Israel's leading migrant and civil rights groups ACRI and HMW to "Netanyahu's words show a lack of historical memory. The Prime Minister should be reminded that countries all over the world are faced with the phenomenon of entry of refugees, and many of them make an effort to absorb them and provide them shelter. The State of Israel should establish a clear mechanism that would determine who is entitled to a refugee status. It should be remembered and reminded that a large number of the asylum seekers in Israel have escaped war and violence in their lands. A state that was established by refugees cannot turns its back on refugees who seek asylum from atrocities."