Israel court suspends plan to deport African migrants

Migrants in Israel
Migrants in Israel protest against deportation

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled against a controversial government plan that would see tens of thousands of African migrants who entered the country deported, according to BBC News.

A group of migrants from Eritrea and Sudan petitioned the court earlier this year after they were offered $3,500 and a plane ticket to leave Israel voluntarily by the end of March, or face detention and forced expulsion.

The government now cannot deport migrants until the court receives new information on the plan, the Supreme Court said yesterday.

The news comes amid reports that five prominent US Zionists have sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him against the mass deportation scheme, warning that it could cause “incalculable damage” to the image of Israel around the world. The authors included, Rabbi Marvin Hier, who offered a prayer at the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

According to figures from Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Authority, some 55,000 African migrants and asylum-seekers currently reside in the country, roughly 90 per cent of who hail from either Sudan or Eritrea.

Most of them arrived in Israel — via Egypt — during the period from 2006 to 2013 before a security fence was erected along the border between Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israel is known for describing migrants as “infiltrators”.

Since 2012, Israel has deported about 20,000 African migrants and asylum-seekers who illegally entered the country. The majority do apply for asylum in Israel, but it is rarely granted, with only ten Eritreans and one Sudanese national granted official refugee status, out of 13,764 asylum applications submitted as of July.

With both Rwanda and Uganda insisting that they will not welcome asylum-seekers deported from Israel, the UN refugee agency UNHCR asserts that Israel should now properly review their status and consider them for asylum within Israel.

At the end of last month, hundreds of African migrants in Holot detention centre started a hunger strike in protest of Israel’s disputed policy, after seven Eritreans were jailed for refusing to leave the country.

In January, Israeli pilots made headlines after they refused to fly planes that were forcibly deporting African migrants back to their countries of origin.

“There is no way that I, as an air crew member, will take part in flying refugees/asylum seekers on their way to a destination whose chances of survival after reaching it… are close to zero,” wrote pilot Shaul Betzer on his social media account.