Harsh measures to keep Africans out of the ‘Jewish state’
News reports from AP and Ynet. ACRI’s briefing on its petition against the anti-infiltration law at foot.
By Max J. Rosenthal, Associated Press
June 02, 2013
JERUSALEM — Israel has reached an agreement to send thousands of African migrants to an unidentified country, according to a court document obtained Monday, a plan that has elicited criticism over its potential harm to the migrants.
The plan, if implemented, is an attempt to address one of Israel’s more pressing issues: what to do with an influx of roughly 60,000 African migrants who have sneaked into Israel from Egypt over the past eight years.
Their arrivals have put Israel in a bind. Many Israelis believe that the Jewish state, founded in part as a refuge for Holocaust survivors after World War II, has a responsibility to help the downtrodden. But others fear that taking in tens of thousands of Africans will threaten the country’s Jewish character and question the extent of Israel’s moral obligations beyond those of other nations.
Most of the migrants have come from Eritrea or Sudan, some fleeing repressive regimes and others looking for work.
Over the past year, Israel has taken a series of steps to halt the influx. It built a fence along the border with Egypt that has reduced the number of new arrivals from hundreds each month to just a trickle. Since last summer, it has imprisoned new arrivals while officials determine whether they meet the criteria for refugee status. Last year, Israel offered some migrants cash to leave voluntarily, warning they would be expelled otherwise.
An Israeli woman holds up a placard saying ‘Yesterday, it was my daughter, tomorrow is your daughter’ during anti-immigrant riots in the poor district of Hatikva in Tel Aviv where most African immigrants live. May 2012. Photo by Roni Schutzer, Israel Out/AFP)
Thousands of Africans still live in slums in Tel Aviv and other cities. Israel has been unable to deport most of them because they would face harm if they returned to their countries of origin.
According to the document, a state lawyer told the Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday that a deal was reached with an unidentified country to absorb some migrants and that Israel was in talks with two other countries to secure a similar agreement. The details of the arrangement were not disclosed, although the state’s lawyer, Yochi Gnesin, said the return of migrants would be “gradual.”
Later Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted in favor of a bill prohibiting migrants from removing money from the country before their final departure.
Refugees on the wrong side of the fence. Photo by Ariel Schalit/AP )
“We have stopped the infiltration phenomenon into Israel. Last month only two infiltrators entered Israel, compared to more than 2,000 a year ago. Now we are focused on the infiltrators leaving,” he said in a statement.
Critics said the deal reflects an abdication of responsibility by Israel and that Israel will not be able to properly monitor the migrants’ conditions once they are deported.
Tally Kritzman-Amir, an immigration law expert at the Academic Center for Law and Business in Tel Aviv, said that Israel could neither effectively supervise the conditions of deported migrants nor guarantee they would not be sent back to their home countries in the future.
“It is possible to transfer the migrants to a third country,” she said, “but the primary responsibility to the rights of the refugees still lies with Israel.”
Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, states are obligated not to send refugees to countries where they would face physical or political danger. It is not clear whether that obligates signatories, of which Israel is one, to monitor the refugees indefinitely after they are deported.
Few other details on the deal were immediately available. Israeli Army Radio reported the country was in east Africa and did not suffer from any unrest that would harm the migrants. Kritzman-Amir said that would make Uganda and South Sudan, which both have good relations with Israel, likely candidates, but she did not have inside information.
Gnesin said the countries involved in absorbing the migrants were doing so “in exchange for one thing or another,” although it was not clear what they would receive in return. The Haaretz daily said that Israel had agreed to provide agricultural expertise as part of the deal.
The Supreme Court on Sunday ordered the government to provide details of the arrangement, including the name of the African country, within seven days.
In High Court debate over jailing of immigrants without trial, State says three countries to accept immigrants; 2,100 North Sudanese already deported
By Aviel Magnezi, Ynet news
June 02, 2013
Israel has reached an agreement with a foreign country to transfer North Sudanese illegal immigrants to its territory, and similar deals with two additional countries are in the works, it was revealed on Sunday in the High Court of Justice.
During a debate over a petition to cancel the Infiltration Prevention Law, which allows the State to jail illegal immigrant for three years without trial, The State’s representative said that 2,100 North Sudanese immigrants have already been transferred.
Attorney Yochi Gensin added that two additional countries are set to accept illegal immigrants – most likely North Sudan and Eritrea nationals – one as a final destination for Eritreans.
Immigrants in Saharonim facility, one of several detention centres in the Negev. Photo by Haim Hornstein.
The attorney noted that out of the 2,100 already transferred, 500 were taken out of holding facilities.
The petition asking to annul the law was filed with the High Court by human rights groups against the Knesset, the interior minister and the defense minister.
According to the State, the law is necessary to stem the illegal immigration phenomenon, as the fence constructed on the Egyptian border alone is not enough to block their entry.
“We know of intentions by those who organize the refugees’ arrival, to direct them to the area through places in which no fence has been constructed yet: The Jordanian border and the Red Sea, near Jordan and Eilat,” Gensin said.
“It was clear from the start that the fence won’t be enough, that’s why the law was enacted,” she added.
Conversely, the petitioners claimed the law formed a critical violation of the asylum seekers’ rights. “It’s doubtful whether a law was ever burned into the State of Israel’s code of law which violated freedom through administrative arrest so critically,” said the petition.
Some 2,000 illegal immigrants are held in detainment facilities, 1,800 of which were jailed through the disputed law.
Though legislation requires the State to complete an examination of the detainees’ asylum petitions within three months or set them free, official data reveal the State answered only few petitions out of the 1,400 filed.
On May 2013, the Immigration Authority processed two asylum seekers who crossed the Egyptian border illegally, compared to 2,031 who entered on May 2012.
Previously released data showed 9,000 immigrants entered Israel on the first half of 2012, compared to 1,300 on the second, after the law was put into action.
But human rights groups relate the drop in numbers to the completion of the southern fence, and claim the law was not a factor.
Dozens of south Tel Aviv residents who oppose the petition attended the proceedings, as well as UN human rights representatives who wished to join the petition.
Knesset Members Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Michal Rozin (Meretz) were also in attendance.
The law, which was passed by the Knesset on January 2012, included a clause which determined that those who aid an illegal immigrant may be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
But due to criticism, this clause was eventually limited to those who aid immigrants who have made a criminal offense.
The law drew legal criticism from the beginning. The Knesset Legal Council Attorney Eyal Yinon claimed that “the possibility of holding the infiltrators for three years without trial is highly irregular.”
Sources with the Foreign Ministry said they were surprised to learn about the government’s decision regarding deporting Eritrean migrants to a third country reportedly willing to accept the refugees.
Ministry sources dealing with the issue of migrants said they had no knowledge of states prepared to accept the asylum seekers, and sounded a skeptical note regarding the revelation. The ministry issued no official statement.
Attila Somfalvi, Omri Efraim contributed to this report
May 29, 2013
On Sunday June 2, 2013, the High Court of Justice, sitting with an expanded panel of 9 Justices, will discuss the constitutionality of the amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration. The law allows, among other things, the detention of children and asylum seekers for a minimum period of three years, even if the state has no intention of sending them back to their home countries due to the dangers they would face to their lives upon their return.
The amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration, which went into effect over a year ago, permits the detention of asylum-seekers that have entered Israel through the Sinai Peninsula for a period of at least three years without a trial. Approximately 2,000 people who entered the country over the last year are currently being detained under the law, including dozens of children. The vast majority of the detainees are Eritrean and Sudanese citizens – countries whose citizens, according to the government’s own directives, cannot be deported due to the threat to their lives.
The petition claims that both Israeli and international law prohibits the detention of immigrants if it is not for the purpose of deporting them. It further adds that the detention of asylum-seekers fleeing for their lives, who suffered through torture camps in Sinai, is likely to substantially aggravate the harm done to their health and welfare. Moreover, it makes clear that deterring new immigrants from traveling to Israel cannot be a sufficient justification for the detention of past immigrants.
Following an initial hearing on March 12, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis announced that the panel of three justices, which he headed, will issue an order nisi – an order that the government must explain why the amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration should remain in effect.
In a 97-page response submitted by the state on May 13, it was claimed that the law creates a “dynamic” mechanism for releasing detainees in a variety of different ways and that incarceration is required in order to maintain state sovereignty and to reduce the incentive for “infiltrators”. The state additionally claimed that most of the detainees are ‘migrant workers’ and not genuine refugees, despite not having concluded examining a single refuge application in the year since the amended law went into force.
In a response to the state’s claims submitted on May 26, it was made clear that the state’s narrative is a distortion of reality:
The “dynamic” release framework that the state mentioned in its response has so far brought about the release of less than 7% of the 2,000 detainees being held under the law, while all of the others are expected to be held in custody for at least three years.
Today, law or no law, the number of entrants to the country is minimal due to the construction of the fence on the border with Egypt.
The ‘custodial facility’ that the state referred to in its response is no more than a glorified jail with particularly harsh conditions and an administrative punishment system.
Most importantly, the law enables the unlimited administrative detention of anyone who does not meet deportation standards due to the threat faced to their lives, no matter whether the state decides they are refugees or not.
The hearing this Sunday will be heard at 10:00am before Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, Deputy President Miriam Naor and Justices Arbel, Joubran, Hayut, Danziger, Hendel, Vogelman and Amit.
The latest response was written and submitted by:
• Attorney Yonatan Berman of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan,
• Attorney Anat Ben Dor of the Refugee Rights Clinic at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law,
• Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and
• Attorney Asaf Weitzen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers.