Deported To The Unknown: A New Report from the Hotline
Hotline has just published a new follow-up report of evidence collected by two investigators, who we sent this summer to Uganda on a fact finding mission to discover what is happening to asylum-seekers who choose to leave Israel under the government’s new policy of “Third-country deportation”. The report details evidence that exposes the serious problems asylum-seekers face in these “third countries” where they remain without status, without guarantee of protection from the government, and no work opportunities, all of this is in stark contrast to promises made by the Israeli government.
In April 2015, the Interior Ministry announced a new policy that those who have not applied for asylum, or those whose applications have been rejected, would be invited to leave for a “third-country”, if an asylum-seeker did not accept this offer, they could be detained indefinitely at Saharonim prison. Human rights NGOs petitioned the District Court of Be’er Sheva to strike down the law, the petition was summarily rejected by the court. It is currently in the process of being appealed to the Supreme Court
According to authorities, as of October 2015, 3,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals have been repatriated to two “third-party” countries. Although the state did not mention their name, we know now that these countries were Rwanda and Uganda. Due to unbridgeable gaps between the states claims regarding provisions of the agreement and the nature of their application, and the testimonies of those who have left who say they are not being upheld; the Hotline sent two representatives to Uganda to meet with asylum seekers deported from Rwanda. They spent the month of August 2015 collecting testimonies and affidavits.
The report recounts the interviews that were held with ten asylum seekers, nine of them citizens of Eritrea and one citizen from Sudan. Eight of them were sent from Israel to Rwanda and then Uganda, and one who went directly from Eritrea to Uganda.
The findings from these interviews revealed that asylum seekers are not allowed to stay in Rwanda, and are dangerously smuggled shortly after arrival to Uganda. In one testimony, M.B. said:
“A guy came from Rwandan Immigration. He took all of our documents and called a taxi driver to take us to the hotel. He introduced himself as Clever. We asked the taxi driver what happened to our documents. He told us that Clever would come back in the morning. That morning, one of my friends woke up early, and gave money to the guard (bribery, that allowed him to leave) and went to look for the Rwandan Interior Ministry, in order to apply for asylum. He came back when I was eating breakfast and said that when he arrived at the Ministry, they asked him where he was coming from. He told them “Israel”, and they said that they did not accept the requests of those who came from Israel. We were worried, and were waiting for Clever to arrive. When Clever arrived, he told him about what happened to us, and asked what would we do if Rwanda was not ready to accept us. He said that there was no problem, and for $200 for each of us he would arrange for us to go to Uganda. We all agreed, because we realized that we could not stay in Rwanda.” (Full Testimony Pg.20)
8 of the interviewees also testified about the experiences of 76 more asylum seekers who were sent along with them from Israel to Rwanda and then forced to go to Uganda, highlighting a dangerous trend. 9 of the affidavits indicated that their decision to leave Israel was due to the enormous pressure put on them by the government. This being fear of summons to the Holot detention facility, or strain from indefinite detention. 3 of the testifiers, all of whom left Israel at different times, attest to false promises given to them by an official from the Ministry of the Interior. These promises included that they could remain in Rwanda legally, and get work opportunities there. 9 affidavits also indicated their Israeli travel documents were confiscated upon arrival at the airport in Kigali. They were then escorted to a hotel, where they were forbidden to leave, until they were smuggled across the border to Uganda. 6 testified to wanting to stay in Rwanda, and leaving against their will. Besides the $150-$200 they had to pay to leave, they were also extorted for more money on the road to Uganda.
Human rights organizations are protesting against the use of detention as a negative incentive to force a person to leave the country, especially when these third-party agreements were made in secret without the oversight of the public, media, or human rights organizations. The attorney general in response said that the agreements were conditional upon the existence of three stipulations: that the third country would avoid deportation to a dangerous place (refoulement), there would be no threat to the life or liberty of those who go, and there would be the ability to stay in that third country with permission to work.
The state argues that these conditions are being met in the third country and therefore what it is doing is permissible. There is no proof that the government has been monitoring the situation, and all testimonies we collected point to the contary. It should be noted that courts in the UK, Australia and Europe have all commented that the country of origin cannot remit itself of its obligations by relying on the promises of the receiving state.