Wednesday, September 10, 2014
HRW: Israel illegally coerced some 7.000 African refugees to leave
Hundreds of African asylum seekers leave the detention centre in Holot (South Israel) in protest against their detention in a so called ''open facility''. (Photo Activestills.org/ June 2014)
Israeli authorities have unlawfully coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into returning to their home countries where they risk serious abuse. Some returning Sudanese have faced torture, arbitrary detention, and treason charges in Sudan for setting foot in Israel, while returning Eritreans also face a serious risk of abuse.
That is what Human Rights Watch says in a 83-page report, “‘Make Their Lives Miserable:’ Israel’s Coercion of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum Seekers to Leave Israel,” that was released on Tuesday. It documents how Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a “threat”, branded them “infiltrators,” denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.
Eritreans and Sudanese began arriving in Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in large numbers in 2006, fleeing widespread human rights abuses in their countries. By the time Israel all but sealed off its border with Egypt in December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country.
Over the past eight years, the Israeli authorities have applied various coercive measures to “make their lives miserable” and “encourage the illegals to leave,” in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai and current Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, respectively. These include indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9 percent of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare.
Since June 2012, the Israeli authorities have indefinitely detained thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese for entering Israel irregularly, that is, without entering through an official border crossing. After the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in September 2013 that such detention was unlawful, the Israeli authorities responded by renaming their detention policy and began requiring Eritreans and Sudanese to live in the Holot “Residency Center” in Israel’s remote Negev desert in conditions which amount to detention despite the change in name.As of late August 2014, just under 2,000 Eritreans and Sudanese – including over 1,000 who have claimed asylum – were detained in the Holot facility, while just under 1,000 were detained in the Saharonim detention center. The remaining 41,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel’s cities live under threat of being ordered to report to Holot.
Detaining people in Holot breaches the prohibition under international law on arbitrary detention because people are confined to a specific location where they cannot carry out their normal occupational and social activities. Detainees are held there for no lawful purpose and indefinitely under a blanket immigration detention policy. The Israeli authorities fail to justify, on an individual basis, each decision to detain someone and there is no effective way to challenge the decision.