Deportation to a Third Country
In 2018, the Israeli government proposed a plan stipulating that asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who had not submitted applications for asylum by early January 2018, or whose asylum applications were denied, were candidates for forcible deportation to a “third country” (Rwanda or Uganda) that had agreed to forcibly absorb them. Testimonies of numerous asylum seekers who left Israel “voluntarily” and went to Uganda and Rwanda make it clear that they did not enjoy any status or protection in these countries. They were subject to imprisonment and had a hard life on the margins of society. They often became refugees again, trying to reach Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. This journey is dangerous in multiple ways, and has claimed the lives of many. Asylum seekers who refused deportation from Israel were imprisoned in the Saharonim facility in the Negev desert.
With the publication of this deportation policy, ASSAF was at the forefront of a broad coalition of organizations leading a major public protest on behalf of asylum seekers in Israel and against the intention to deport them. The struggle took place in the public arena, in the legal arena, and in the Israeli and international media. Protests were attended by asylum seekers, representatives of Israeli human rights organizations, and Israeli citizens from all over the country.
Following heavy pressure against the deportation plan, in April 2018, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Rwanda had not agreed to accept refugees from Israel. On April 4, 2018, asylum seekers imprisoned for refusing to leave Israel for Rwanda were released from Saharonim. Subsequently, Uganda withdrew from the agreement to accept refugees forcibly deported from Israel.
This was not the first time that ASSAF has been at the forefront of the struggle against deporting refugees who are seeking asylum in Israel. We led an extensive public struggle against a deportation plan in 2012, and filed an administrative petition in conjunction with other human rights organizations. However, the petition was rejected and, despite the protests, asylum seekers from South Sudan were deported.