Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Deportation and Voluntary Departure

Photo by: Activestills

Deportation to a third-party country (2018)

The government's plan to deport asylum seekers to a third-party country by force determined that Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who had not submitted asylum requests by the beginning of January 2018, or whose asylum applications had been rejected, would be candidates for deportation to a "third party country" that has agreed to take them in involuntarily. The plan was based on the fact that Israel's asylum system is dysfunctioning, and that contrary to international standards, asylum requests of thousands of Sudanese and Eritreans are denied, deferred for years or dismissed in limine.

The outline of the forced deportation plan, published on January 1, 2018, determined that anyone who refuses to be deported to a third country will be imprisoned indefinitely in Saharonim prison. The countries on the agenda of the deportation plan were Rwanda and Uganda, where Israel has already sent thousands of refugees who were pressured to leave “voluntarily." Many testimonies of asylum seekers who left "voluntarily" for Uganda and Rwanda made it clear that they do not receive any status or protection in these countries; moreover, they are subject to imprisonment and harsh life on the fringes, and are often forced to leave and embark on another refuge-seeking voyage to Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean, which places them at great risk, and has already claimed many lives. After the closure of Holot detention facility on March 15, 2018, asylum seekers who were candidates for deportation and refused to leave for Rwanda and Uganda were imprisoned in Saharonim prison.

The announcement of a new deportation policy led to an unprecedented public protest in support of asylum seekers in Israel, and against the plan to deport them. The struggle took place in the public sphere, in legal circles, and in both the local and international media. Anti-deportation actions were taken jointly by asylum seekers, human rights organizations and Israeli citizens across the country, from all walks of life. While the exact reasons for preventing the deportation policy are not entirely clear, it is certain that the civil struggle played a significant role.

The collapse of the third-party state plan

Despite repetitive denial from senior Rwandese officials, Israel had repeatedly claimed that there was an agreement of forced deportation to Rwanda. At a press conference held by Prime Minister Netanyahu on April 2, 2018, and within the framework of legal proceedings, it was revealed that Rwanda does not recognize such an agreement and that asylum seekers from Israel cannot be deported to Rwanda by force. As a result, on April 4, all asylum seekers who were imprisoned in Saharonim for refusing to leave for Rwanda were released.

In view of Rwanda's refusal to take in refugees from Israel who were forcibly deported, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced at the press conference that an agreement had been signed between Israel and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to resolve the refugee crisis in Israel, according to which some 16,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees would be resettled in Western countries, and another 16,000 will receive temporary status in Israel for the next five years, allowing them to work and receive social benefits.

Less than a day after this agreement with the UN, which had clear advantages for Israel, was published, Netanyahu announced the cancellation of the international agreement which he had signed, and the return of the forced deportation program. At a sitting held at the High Court of Justice on April 10, The State claimed that there exists a signed agreement with Uganda for its reception of deportees by force, despite Uganda’s repeated denial. The court ruled that the agreement is not yet fully developed and gave The State five days to obtain an updated and approved agreement. The government deepened its contacts with Uganda through a special envoy, but failed to obtain an updated agreement of deportation. Therefore, on April 15, 2018, the last asylum seekers still imprisoned in Saharonim due to their refusal to leave for Uganda were released.

On April 24, in response to ASSAF’s and affiliate human rights organizations’ urgent request for factual information on the government's forced deportation plan, The State unequivocally admitted that the above plan no longer existed. This meant that summonings to deportation hearings were not be distributed as before, within the framework of the state's attempts to implement the plan, and that asylum seekers who were candidates for deportation beforehand will receive the type A(2)5 temporary visas, that were usually granted for a period of 60 days.

The aftermath of the forced deportation plan to a third-party country

Asylum seekers remain in Israel, deprived of basic rights, pushed further away to the economic fringes due to months of implementation of the Deposit Fund Law. Instead of ensuring that a fair and fitting plan for their voluntary dispersal and integration in strong local authorities throughout the country is constructed, the State of Israel focuses on promoting additional measures meant to harm asylum seekers, while continually neglecting the rehabilitation of southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods, where it had been pushing refugees for the past decade upon their arrival in Israel.

There is an alternative to this policy: a serious and responsible examination of asylum applications, and a decision on the ones pending; providing refugees with social rights and access to health and welfare services; encouraging the dispersal and integration of refugees in strong local authorities and municipalities throughout the country, alongside direct investment in infrastructure, health and education services in south Tel Aviv.

Deportation to a third-party country (2015)

On March 31, 2015, the Immigration Authority announced that from now on it would forcibly deport Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers to a "third-party country in Africa" ​​- which is not their country of origin, and began handing out deportation notices to the prisoners at Holot detention facility. The position of ASSAF and affiliate human rights organizations stated that this was a dangerous move which would constitute a grave breach of the treaties the State of Israel had signed in the past, and which contradicts customary international law. Moreover, incarceration of those who refuse to 'agree' to be deported to an unknown fate, poses dangers that are contradictory to Israeli law and to a series of Supreme Court rulings.

The "voluntary departure" procedure

As the State of Israel is unable to forcibly deport asylum seekers, the Population and Immigration Authority is constantly pressuring asylum seekers to leave Israel "voluntarily". For years now, this pressure is expressed through incarceration in Holot, a facility which was opened in 2013 and operated until 2018, when it was eventually closed during the state's attempts to implement a plan of forced deportation to a third-party country. With the collapse of the forced deportation plan, government officials continue to threaten refugees with imprisonment and even with reopening the Holot facility. Another measure designed to make life harder for asylum seekers in Israel, and to make them leave, is the "Deposit Fund Law", which expropriates 20% of their salaries and makes it difficult for employers to hire them. The accumulated deposits will only be available to asylum seekers as they leave the country.

A report published by ASSAF in 2015, written in cooperation with The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, revealed that in some cases, the fate of the asylum seekers who did leave for the third party countries of Uganda and Rwanda was imprisonment, torture and persecution by the authorities.

Read "Where There is No Free Will" report

A testimonials report created by independent researchers Lior Birger, Liat Boltzman and Shahar Shoham, had furthered revealed the fate of asylum seekers who travelled from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda and were forced to leave these countries and embark on a dangerous journey to Europe via the Libyan desert. The report finds that the journeys of asylum seekers included kidnappings, torture and hunger. The asylum seekers interviewed by the researchers had testified that many did not survive, and died in the desert or drowned in the Mediterranean.

Read the testimonials report about asylum seekers who left for a third-party country and received status in Europe

In addition, you can read the story of an asylum seeker from Darfur, who, after being summoned to Holot detention facility, has agreed to leave for any country other than Sudan, where he was persecuted. He was promised that he would be traveling to a different country in Africa, but as he landed in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, he was told to move on to Sudan.

Deportation to South Sudan (2012)
On January 31, 2012, the former Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, decided to order the entire South Sudanese community in Israel to leave Israel by the end of March 2012. Although the Southern Sudanese community in Israel constituted only a small percentage of all asylum seekers in Israel (700-1,000 people, of whom more than 400 were children), community members were deported in June 2012, following the rejection of the administrative petition submitted by ASSAF and affiliate human rights organizations against the removal of group protection from asylum seekers from South Sudan, and after a public struggle against the deportation led by ASSAF.

As part of the public struggle, we have frequently published updated situation reports about South Sudan. We managed an effective extensive web campaign; a media campaign that included dozens of various publications on the subject; we enlisted intellectuals, people of culture and the arts to support the struggle against deportation; we worked with MKs and various public figures; collaborating with Avaaz, we got thousands of signatures on a petition against the deportation; we organized demonstrations and worked with members of the community to abort the deportation.

The public struggle succeeded in bringing the difficult, unique story of the refugees from South Sudan to the public consciousness, and managed to create an opposition to the deportation. However, in the first half of 2012, the waves of incitement and racism against refugees increased, reaching new heights, and constituted fertile ground for the implementation of the deportation to South Sudan.

Minors in placement outside home who were candidates for deportation
At the beginning of the deportation to South Sudan, within the framework of what the Ministry of Interior called a "voluntary return operation," ASSAF were contacted regarding children of South Sudanese origin in placement outside the home (in boarding schools), whose families were to be deported by the Ministry of Interior.

On June 20, 2012, we filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Interior, by hand of attorney Jonathan Berman (from the Human Rights Division at the Academic Center for Law and Business, Ramat Gan), demanding that children who were removed from their parents’ custody, either voluntarily or by a juvenile court order, will only be returned to them following a review by professional welfare bodies, or, alternatively, after the juvenile court examines the matter and determines that they are no longer minors in need.

• High Court of Justice 4845/12 ASSAF Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel against the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Interior

Following the petition, the ministries of Welfare and Interior announced that children in placement outside the home will not be returned to their parents’ custody until after legal procedures have been met, and that welfare authorities will examine each case to see whether the child will be facing any danger if they were to be returned to their parents' custody. ASSAF withdrew the petition. We monitored the conduct of the ministries of Welfare and Interior closely, in order to ensure that they are fulfilling their obligations.

In 2014 we wrote a report on the subject of minors in placement outside the home who are facing deportation, and served it to senior officials at the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Interior. The report was compiled following the return of children who were removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse, to their parents’ custody for the purpose of their deportation, without examining the case in an orderly procedure and without completing the therapeutic process, while ignoring the best interests of the children.

• The ASSAF report "Foreign Considerations" about children of asylum seekers in placement outside the home facing deportation