Israel accused of 'coercing' African migrants to leave
Refugees from Sudan and Eritrea were pressured to move on, Human Rights Watch says
Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of breaking the law by forcing thousands of Sudanese and Eritreans migrants to leave the country. It claims that some were detained or tortured after they had been deported.
"The New York-based group said in its report that it had documented seven cases in which citizens of Sudan were detained and interrogated in the capital, Khartoum, on their return," says the New York Times.
"While four of the seven were released after short periods, the report said, one was tortured, a second was put in solitary confinement and a third was charged with treason for visiting Israel."
In response, the Israeli government has said that its policies of migrants and asylum-seekers complied with international laws.
When did the African refugees and asylum seekers arrive in Israel?
Many Sudanese and Eritreans began arriving in Israel via the Egyptian Sinai border in large number in 2006. "By December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country", says the BBC.
How many of them remain in Israel?
That remains unclear, but only one Eritrean and two Sudanese applicants were recognised by Israel as refugees. According to the Human Right Watch report, 6,400 Sudanese and 367 Eritreans has officially left Israel by June 2014.
Why are so many African migrants trying to get to Israel?
African migrants in Israel are mostly from war-torn regions such as Eritrea and Darfur. They arrived in Israel after taking a long journey across the Egyptian Sinai, where reports suggest that they face the risk of kidnap and torture.
What is Israel's official policy towards refugees?
Under its Prevention of Infiltration Law, Israel detains asylum seekers without charge and holds them in a camp called Holot in the Negev desert for an unspecified period of time. During that time they do not have access to non-emergency healthcare, work permits or other social services, but they are offered airfare and other stipends if they decide to leave.
What are the allegations in this case?
According to Human Rights Watch, Israel:
- violates international laws relating to the 'non-refoulement' of refugees – ie the convention that they should not be returned to the hands of their persecutors – by "unlawfully coercing" them to go home or to other countries in which they face dangers, such as Uganda, Ethiopia or Rwanda
- does not grant asylum seekers fair and legal asylum procedures.
- pressurises asylum seekers to leave by limiting their access to jobs and healthcare.
What does Israel say in response?
"Israel says its policies on illegal immigrants and refugees comply with international law," the BBC reports. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described asylum-seekers as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country", The Guardian reports, and in July he said that repatriating African asylum seekers is "essential to the welfare of Israel's citizens and for its future as a Jewish and democratic nation", according to Al Jazeera.