It has begun: Israel starts issuing deportation notices to 38,000 African asylum seekers

Despite an unprecedented upsurge of opposition to the deportations by Israeli activists, the process has started.

Source: Times of Israel

Israel begins handing out deportation notices to African migrants

Asylum seekers to get two months to leave country or be jailed; prison service cautions it doesn’t have enough cells to hold those who refuse deportation

African migrants in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Nicky Kelvin/Flash90/File)

Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority  started handing out deportation notices to thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers on Sunday morning.

The notices are to be given for now only to unmarried, childless men who attempt to renew their visas, a process they need to undertake every two months. They are to receive a permit until April, along with a notice saying they need to leave Israel within two months, or face incarceration.

Migrants who agree to exit Israel by the end of March will receive $3,500 and a plane ticket. Forced deportations could possibly be carried out next.

However, senior officials in the Israel Prison Service were quoted on Sunday as saying the country doesn’t have enough cells to imprison the thousands of migrants who are expected to refuse deportation.

Israel won’t be able to hold more than a thousand additional prisoners, the officials told Haaretz. The paper said the government was mulling the option of keeping open the Holot detention center and converting it into a prison, though that would require legislation and the installation of security measures and a fence around the facility.

Asylum seekers protesting at the Holot detention center in the southern Negev Desert of Israel, February 17, 2014. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012.

In December, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” paving the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers, and the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced deals to send the migrants to third-party countries in Africa. Though he has refused to divulge which countries they are, they are widely thought to be Rwanda and Uganda.

Israeli rights activists and Jewish communities in the US have spoken out against the deportation plan.

Dozens of Israeli experts on international law urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to reconsider his decision to approve the plan, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Sunday.

The 25 academics wrote a letter saying the idea violates international law clauses that prohibit deporting people to a state where they could face persecution, torture or inhumane treatment. They accused the authorities of neglecting and “systematically rejecting” asylum requests, and argued that Rwanda wasn’t a safe country for the deportees.

They also said Rwandan authorities had made it clear that they wouldn’t accept forced deportees, and that the options facing them “aren’t alternatives from which one can ‘choose.’ The entire purpose of indefinite detention is to break the detainee’s will.”

Last week, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said his office will draw a distinction between Africans who came to Israel seeking work and refugees who came from war zones seeking sanctuary. He said anyone who submitted requests for asylum by December 31, 2017, and whose request has not yet been processed, will not be deported, including mothers, children and families.

Most young African migrants who did not arrive with children did not submit requests for asylum, Deri said.

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