Yesterday, Thursday 15 March, the Israeli Supreme Court temporarily suspended the government’s deportation scheme, giving the state until 26 March to provide further information of their plans to deport around 40.000 asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea. Until they provide further information, the Israel cannot deport the African immigrants.
Before the – temporary – suspension of the Israeli government’s plans, the United Nations Refugee Organisation, UNHCR, had appealed to Israel to halt its policies after they identified 80 cases in which people relocated by Israel had risked their lives by taking dangerous onwards journeys to Libya and Europe. Furthermore, a Justice Ministry’s immigration Tribunal had also ruled that an Eritrean asylum seeker should be entitled to asylum based on international conventions. The ruling had found that Eritreans indeed have a “very well-founded basis for persecution” and should therefore be granted asylum.
The threat of deportation for the asylum seekers in Israel has been ongoing for years. Due to the political situation in their countries, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been finding shelter in large numbers in Israel since 2008.
In 2002 Israel removed the UNHCR from the role of checking asylum claims and took that role upon their own Ministry of Interior, as each sovereign state has the right to do. However, Israel’s Ministry of Interior systematically blocked asylum seekers from having their individual cases reviewed and, in this way, they could not work or apply for citizenship. Many were rounded up in recent years to be brought to the open detention centre Holot, in the middle of the desert. This was seen as strong coercion for asylum seekers to sign ‘voluntary’ deportation agreements. Under these agreements, the asylum seekers would be offered $3,500 and a plane ticket to leave until the end of March, or face imprisonment.
At the end of February, Israel started its deportation plan, imprisoning Eritreans who refused to leave the country. Seven men were moved from Holot to Saharonim prison for indefinite detention. According to sources, the detainees were saying that prison was better than death in Africa. On 20 February, 750 asylum seekers began a hunger strike demanding the release of those imprisoned.