African asylum-seekers gear up protests against forced deportation
AP Phoo/Moti Milrod
Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers protests picked up momentum on Monday as two separate demonstrations took place - at the Rwandan Embassy and the President’s Residence as the forcible deportation plan to third-party African countries looms.
Thousands gathered outside the Israel’s Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya chanting “we are human beings!” and ‘Remember your history!”, holding signs of Eritrean refugees who were previously deported from Israel to Rwanda and died whilst seeking safety, the Times of Israel reported.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month, following the closure of the Holot detention center, that the 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers had a choice: either to receive a one-time payment of $3500 and leave Israel “voluntarily” to an African country, or stay in Israel and face indefinite incarceration in a more permanent detention center. The deadline given is the end of March 2018.
It is illegal to 'refoul' asylum-seekers to their countries of origin, so it instead Israel claims it struck deals to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, although none of the countries involved have confirmed the arrangement. Rwanda's deputy foreign minister Oliver Nduhungirehe recently told the Associated Press no such deal has ever been reached, and a Ugandan official dismissed it as "fake news".
The Herzliya protest was followed by a second demonstration outside President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem where dozens of Eritreans and Sudanese held signs reading, “Don’t despair, we will stop the expulsion.”
The protests take place amid preparations initiated by the Israeli authorities to begin the initial phases of the deportation process. The Population and Immigration Authority is providing each asylum-seeker with an “Information sheet for infiltrators leaving for a safe third country.” The document specifies details about the process and explains the arrangements made.
“The state of Israel has made arrangements allowing you leave Israel for a safe third country that will take you in and give you a residence permit that will allow you to work and ensure you will not be deported to your country of origin,” the document reads.
It adds that, the country which they are being sent to, “has developed greatly over the past decade and has taken in thousands of returning residents from various African countries. This country has a stable government that contributes to development in many areas, among them education, medicine and infrastructure.
Testimonies from asylum-seekers who have depart to Rwanda and Uganda states that these countries are unsafe and many have risked their lives. UNHCR said it had spoken to 80 people who were flown with the $3,500 to Rwanda before heading north, travelling to Rome through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya.
"Along the way they suffered abuse, torture and extortion before risking their lives once again by crossing the Mediterranean to Italy", UNHCR said in a statement, explaining that its staff interviewed the migrants in Rome.
A number of pilots from the Israeli airline carrier El-Al also pledged their support to asylum-seekers on Monday, writing in a Facebook post that they would refuse to fly planes “to a destination where their (asylum-seekers) chances of surviving (in a “third country”) are small.”
"Let the refugees remain here and be taken care of immediately, as human beings. Just like the Jews were refugees once, wanting to be cared for and not thrown out,” Iddo Elad from El-Al added.
“Contrary to these claims, I have heard many claims that the arrangements we have set with the third country assures the personal security of those who leave here. They receive permits for housing, work and the chance to integrate into the country,” Netanyahu reaffirmed at his cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Israel claims that most of those claiming asylum are in fact economic migrants. Netanyahu added, “we are not acting against refugees. We are acting against illegal migrants who come here...for work needs. Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees.”
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