Israel confirms plan to deport African migrants to Uganda

‘Israel plans to soon begin deporting migrants from Eritrea and Sudan, who number more than 50,000, back to Africa via Uganda, officials said.

Israel regards most of the Africans as illegal visitors in search of jobs, and largely rejects the position of human rights groups that many fled their countries in search of political asylum.

A statement late on Thursday from interior minister Gideon Sa’ar said Israel would soon begin a staged process of deporting the migrants, most of whom have crossed the border with Egypt since 2006.

Sa’ar said an agreement had been reached with Uganda to absorb the “infiltrators”, who would soon be urged “to leave of their own free will”.

Sa’ar said the prime minister’s special envoy Hagai Hadas had obtained Uganda’s consent, Haaretz reported.

The chairwoman of parliament’s committee on foreign workers, Michal Rozin, speaking by phone, said there were “rumours” that Uganda may have agreed to the arrangement in exchange for a deal for money and weapons.

There was no immediate comment from officials in Kampala.

“In the first stage, we will focus on raising awareness within the population of infiltrators while helping them with the logistics of their departure, including costs, airfare and dealing with the possessions they accumulated while they were in Israel,” Sa’ar said.

Later the state would set a deadline by which “certain sectors within the infiltrator population” would be asked to “willingly” leave the country.

Once the deadline passed, the state would stop issuing extensions on visas and would begin enforcing laws that prohibit the employment of illegal migrants, the minister said.

Rozin urged the government to expose more details of the plan, including whether there were assurances that the migrants would not be forcibly repatriated to Sudan or Eritrea, saying that in these countries “we know many would be at risk of their lives”.

Human rights groups say Israel has jailed hundreds of African migrants and taken other steps to get them to agree to leave the country.

A few thousand are believed to have left Israel in the past year since a law enacted in 2012 authorising migrants who lack any official residence permits to be jailed for up to three years, said Sigal Rozen, policy co-ordinator for Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW), an Israeli human rights group.

In July, a group of 14 Eritreans were repatriated after receiving $1,500 each from Israeli authorities, in what HMW denounced at the time as a “grave human rights violation”, citing Eritrea’s poor human rights record.

At least one group of Africans was flown out of Israel to South Sudan in the past year and other migrants have been offered cash to leave. Some 2,000 Africans are being held in the southern detention centres.

A fortified fence along Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai has largely stemmed the flow of migrants, who walked across what was a porous frontier at a rate of up to 2,000 a month in 2011.’

(Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/30/israel-plan-deport-african-migrants-uganda … removed now because of copyright bullshit)

Or this from Electronic Intifada:

Israel is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, which sets out refugees’ rights and states’ responsibilities towards them. Nevertheless, Israel has not yet formulated a clear policy to determine refugee status. It doesn’t officially process refugee claims and has recognized fewer than 200 asylum-seekers as refugees since its creation in 1948.

Today, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that just more than 54,000 refugees and asylum-seekers live in Israel, with the majority coming from Sudan and Eritrea. Because their refugee status is never formally verified, most refugees in Israel hold a “conditional release” visa, which must be renewed every three months and does not allow them to work.

The Israeli high court ruled in 2011 that employers in Israel would not be fined, or charged, for employing asylum-seekers holding a conditional release visa. While the decision effectively allows asylum-seekers to work legally in the country, many employers remain hesitant to hire them.

Last year, the Israeli government threatened to fine business owners and mayors of municipalities that employ African refugees (“Interior minister: We will fine mayors who employ African migrants,” Haaretz, 24 May 2012). Israeli politicians have labeled African asylum-seekers as “infiltrators.”

Earlier this month, Israel passed a law severely limiting how much money asylum-seekers could withdraw from bank accounts while in Israel and how much money or property can be transferred abroad (“New law to limit money migrants can send abroad,” The Jerusalem Post, 4 June). The law now makes it almost impossible for refugees to support relatives in their home countries.

“We are focusing on the infiltrators’ departure from Israel. Several thousand infiltrators have already left Israel and we are continuing to work on repatriating the illegal work infiltrators already here,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the law was passed.

As a result of employment restrictions, African asylum-seekers are often forced to work in the informal sector, where they don’t have social protection or insurance, receive low wages for long hours and are vulnerable to exploitation.

“[A refugee] doesn’t have family here. He doesn’t have community support. He doesn’t have any money from the government. He has nothing. So he’s ready to work 15 hours a day,” explained Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Israel.

Marom said that Israel’s restrictions are motivated by the government’s hope that strict conditions, which include a policy of imprisoning asylum-seekers for at least three years for entering the country illegally, will deter others from coming to Israel. It has constructed a fence along its southern border with Egypt and the world’s largest refugee detention center for the same purposes.

“This policy is not only harming the very basic human rights of refugees themselves, but also harming Israeli society and especially the very weak populations in the Israeli society,” Marom said.

(Source: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, “Africans Denied Right to Work in Israel“, Electronic Intifada 25 June 2013)