The Population, Immigration and Border Authority will begin issuing deportation notices on Sunday to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who are not held in the Holot detention facility.
In the first stage the notices will be issued to men without children who come to renew their residence visa. Citizens of Eritrea and Sudan are required to renew their visas every two months at the authority’s office in Bnei Brak. They will receive their last two-month visa, along with a letter stating that during this period they are expected to leave the country, otherwise they will be forbidden to work and can expect to be incarcerated indefinitely. Authority personnel will suggest that they leave for either Rwanda or their native countries.
Dabsai, a 47-year-old from Eritrea is a resident of Netanya. “I don’t want to go to Rwanda,” he said. “I’m from Eritrea, and I don’t want to return to Eritrea. I’m going to jail, without fear.”
Habtum, an asylym seeker from Eritrea who spent over a year in the Holot detention facility, said “They told me to leave after 60 days. I told them that I cannot, there’s a problem because I came here.” He says he’d rather enter prison.
The authority is in the process of hiring 100 new immigration inspectors, who will begin work shortly. From the beginning of April, asylum seekers who were asked to leave the country but do not will be subject to arrest.
According to population authority figures, there are some 39,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel, including 5,000 children. For now, deportation notices will not be issued to women, children, fathers of children, anyone recognized as a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and those who had requested asylum by the end of 2017 but haven’t gotten a response.
This brings down the number of those subject to deportation, for the time being, to between 15,000 and 20,000 people. But Interior Minister Arye Dery and other officials have made it clear that the decision not to deport parents, women or children will likely change down the road. Those seeking asylum now are not assured protection either.
Two weeks ago the population authority gave similar notices to asylum seekers held in Holot, which is expected to close in around six weeks. Asylum seekers there say the authority has held conversations about deportation with about 60 of the some 900 people in the detention center in the Negev desert, all from Eritrea. During these talks, the authority representative told them they must go to Rwanda or to their own country, otherwise they will be imprisoned at Saharonim Prison indefinitely. They were given a month to inform the authority of their decision. The Holot detainees say Uganda was not offered as an option, as it was in the past.
During these conversations, the asylum seekers were given a two-page letter in Hebrew entitled “Information Sheet for the Infiltrator Leaving for a Safe Third Country” (“infiltrator” being the state’s term for asylum seekers who entered Israel over its border with Egypt). It begins, “We would like to inform you that the State of Israel has signed agreements allowing you to leave Israel for a safe third country that will absorb you and give you a residency visa that will allow you to work in that country, and promises not to remove you to your country of origin.”
The document continues, “The country to which you go is a country that has developed tremendously in the last decade and absorbs thousands of returning residents and immigrants from various African countries. … This country has governmental stability, which contributes to develop in many fields, including education, medicine and infrastructure.”
The authority says it would arrange for Israeli travel documents for those leaving and pay their airfare. “The authority’s representatives will assist you in the process of leaving the State of Israel until the date of your flight, and any questions you may have can be addressed to them,” it says.
It was noted that a grant of $3,500 would be given them at the airport before boarding the plane, along with an entry visa to the country of destination. “Upon arrival at the third country, a local team will be waiting for you at the airport to accompany you during the first few days. The staff will take you to the hotel that was arranged for you, where you will meet the local representatives, who will explain your options,” the document says.
The authority also said that its representatives would contact them in the third country shortly after they leave Israel. The document lists a phone number that can be called “during business hours,” which are not specified. It also says that before getting on the plane they will be given a phone number of a representative of the third country whom they can contact.
They are warned that if they do not leave willingly and must be forcibly removed, the financial grant would be reduced considerably. The letter concludes, “We wish you success.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuhas said the agreement with Rwanda allows for involuntary deportation. Rwanda, however, has publicly denied the existence of any such agreement, and has insisted it would not accept anyone deported against his will.