In spite of the “true and undying friendship” with Africa that Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proclaimed on his just ended visit to East Africa, Israel will not accommodate thousands of Africans seeking asylum.
Little of PM Netanyahu’s proclamation is reflected in his country’s handling of at least 42,147 people, mostly from Eritrea and the Darfur region of Sudan, whose fate is in the hands of Israel’s Supreme Court.
Their case, which comes up in September, challenges the legality of Israel’s policy, passed in June 2012, which aims to encourage the asylum seekers to return to their countries voluntarily, and the third country arrangement through which it is implemented.
A lower court rejected a petition in November 2015 that those who depart for a third country face the risk of persecution or becoming stateless altogether.
Refugee rights organisations in Israel that petitioned the Supreme Court argue that the new policy simply underwrites forceful departures, which is against the Refugee Convention that Israel ratified in 1954.
They also argue that the two African countries (Uganda and Rwanda) which have agreed to absorb or transmit these people back to their homelands, are anything but safe. Ugandan officials are tight lipped about their part of the deal.
In April, 2015, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame admitted his country was in talks with Israel to take in African asylum seekers who Tel Aviv was sending away.
On Wednesday, July 6, while hosting PM Netanyahu, President Kagame did not reveal details about the deal, but defended it, saying it was not taboo for the two countries to discuss the matter as they do any other.
On his part, PM Netanyahu reiterated his reluctance — first expressed on Monday in Kampala, which still denies being party to the arrangement — to recognise the asylum seekers as such but merely as “job seekers” who were seeking employment albeit illegally.
He dispelled accounts that the Africans seeking safety in his country escaped persecution and other unbearable conditions in their homelands. This is in spite of a number of unflattering reports, some by the UN, about the conditions in Eritrea and Sudan.
“[Those who] need asylum, they will get asylum, but if they want jobs, then we have an organised system of receiving people in Israel,” he added.
Israel authorities and a section of the Israeli public calls asylum seekers “infiltrators,” which refugee rights workers say is a loaded and traumatic term.
It originates from the Anti-Infiltration Law (AIL) the country enacted in 1954 to describe Palestinians who entered the Israeli borders after the 1948 war, sometimes forcefully, to get back to their lands.
The new policies and amendments against African asylum seekers are contained under AIL – a decision refugee rights workers say is erroneous.