hotline header big image

Israel: Cease Coercing Refugees into Leaving

Joint statement by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, La Cimade and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)

Israel must honour its international obligations and stop coercing Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers into returning “voluntarily” to their homelands or third countries where violations abound.

In a recent report, Where There is No Free Will, Israeli organisations document Israel’s myriad methods aiming at disguising deportation of Eritreans and Sudanese asylum seekers as ‘voluntary return’. Over the past two years, 9,000 African asylum-seekers have “voluntarily” left Israel, 1,205 of which to third countries.

The report demonstrates how Israel coerces asylum-seekers, especially those detained in Holot detention centre, into returning to their homelands or third countries, such as Uganda and Rwanda, where they face human rights violations.

Despite Israel’s claim, returns are neither voluntary nor secure. At least in two cases, asylum-seekers who thought they were on their way to a third country were deported to their country of origin. To date, the fate of Eritreans who returned to their country remains unknown. Sudanese returned to their homeland were arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated. Asylum-seekers sent to Uganda have been left in legal limbo while some of those sent to Rwanda have been allegedly smuggled to Uganda by a representative of the Rwandan authorities.

Desperate, many take another perilous journey, this time towards Europe. En route, they face arbitrary arrests and abuse at the hands of traffickers, and risk drowning in the Mediterranean. In April 2015, at least three of the Eritreans who were “returned” to Uganda were kidnapped in Libya and murdered by armed groups.

Although its Supreme Court has invalidated the Anti-Infiltration Law twice, Israel continues relentlessly to deny asylum-seekers the right to seek protection. Our organisations denounce the lack of transparency and judicial control over the conclusion of return agreements with countries lacking the most basic fundamental rights safeguards. We call on Israel to:

1. Cease forcing or encouraging asylum-seekers to leave and ensure their access to a fair and effective asylum procedure and appropriate reception conditions in line with Israel’s international obligations;
2. Ensure that return decisions are fully made by the individual, and supported by explicit procedural safeguards in line with the non-refoulement principle
3. Stop criminalising people in need of international protection by referring to them as “infiltrators.”

The European Union has tepidly called on Israel to “ensure respect for international law and human rights in the treatment of irregular migrants and asylum seekers”. However, the EU’s 2015 ENP Progress Report for Israel fails to explicitly question the voluntary nature of these returns or highlight the human rights violations that they give rise to. Our organisations urge the EU to:

1. Explicitly express its concern over Israel’s practice of forcing or encouraging “voluntary” returns in the upcoming meeting of the EU-Israel Subcommittee Migration and Social Affairs and the ENP Progress Reports;
2. Explicitly condemn the human rights violations arising from this practice, including the violation of the non-refoulement principle and the inhumane and degrading treatment asylum seekers face as a direct result of this practice;
3. Remind Israel of its obligations to conduct substantive, fair and timely examinations of individual asylum requests;
4. Engage in meaningful dialogue with migrants’ and refugees’ rights organisations in Israel ahead of each Sub-Committee on Migration and Social Affairs.