The deportation of African migrants to Rwanda or Uganda would not meet international law requirements, Amnesty International has warned, as the Supreme Court in Israel put on hold planned repatriations, which were scheduled for April 1.
The human-rights watchdog warns that the agreements between “third countries” and Israel are illegal in nature as they go against the right for refugee status for over 40,000 African migrants who are unwanted in Israel.
“The agreements between Israel and the unnamed African countries are illegal under international law as they violate the prohibition of non-refoulement. It prohibits the transfer of a person to a place where they would be at real risk of persecution and other serious human-rights violations, or where they would not be protected against such a transfer later,” a statement issued by Amnesty International reads.
Secret nature of the pacts
The watchdog backs a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to halt the deportation, saying that the government must reveal the content of the agreement between Israel and the third countries.
Rwanda and Uganda have been named as the third countries in question, but both deny the existence of an agreement. Rwanda has said it is willing to accept refugees deported from Israel, but only if the process meets international law requirements.
Amnesty International said the secret nature of the agreements denies asylum-seekers legal protection or access to legal recourse.
Based on interviews with refugees previously deported to Rwanda and Uganda, the rights watchdog said there is no proof that the refugees will be accorded basic rights such as shelter or jobs.
Philip Luther, the Amnesty International’s Middle East Research and Advocacy director, said the failure by Israel or recipient countries to provide details of the arrangement to resettle the migrants puts their lives in a precarious situation.
“This policy has put the asylum-seekers in an extremely vulnerable position as they are exposed to the risk of being sent back to their country of origin and cannot hold the Israeli government, or the government of the third country to account,” said Mr Luther.
“We have documented several cases of asylum-seekers deported from Israel who were promised residency and work permits in Uganda and Rwanda, only to find that none of this was available upon arrival in the new country,” he said.
Watchdogs and refugee agencies are piling pressure on the Israel government to accord the African migrants refugee status but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Africans in his country are infiltrators and not asylum seekers.
Israel has refused to admit the migrants as refugees and insists they should leave or risk being jailed for good. Amnesty International said that whichever way the deportations happen, they will not meet international guidelines and conventions on refugees.
Last week, over 25,000 African migrants mainly from Sudan and Eritrea took part in protests against the planned deportations.
The government is scheduled to file its response to the court petition this week. However reports from Israel show that plans to deport the refugees are in advanced stages.
Amnesty International said that the options provided by Israel such as giving migrants who agree to be deported voluntarily $3,500 and a ticket to their country of origin or a “third country” while those who refuse face jail, go against the principles of protecting refugees and asylum seekers.
Efforts to get a comment from the Rwandan government or to identify where the migrants will be resettled were futile as government officials remained tight-lipped on the matter.