Global protests against Israeli plans to deport refugees
Protests are expected outside Rwandan embassies around the world Wednesday as Israel moves forward with its plan to deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom fled Eritrea and Sudan.
Activists hope Israel’s deportation plan can be stopped if Rwanda pulls out of its secret deal with Israel. Israeli officials claim they have a secret agreement with an African country — widely presumed to be Rwanda —according to which that country will accept refugees deported from Israel. Rwandan officials, however, have repeatedly denied the existence of any agreement with Israel and recently sent out messages discouraging asylum seekers from leaving Israel for Rwanda under threat of imprisonment or coercion.
Israel began issuing deportation notices to individual asylum seekers on Sunday, instructing them to leave Israel within two months or face indefinite detention. Some asylum seekers said they were informed by Interior Ministry officials that they would be sent to Rwanda or Uganda, while others said they were told only that they would be sent to a “third country.”
Between 2013 and 2017, 3,959 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers left Israel for Rwanda under the “voluntary return” program, part of the Israeli government’s efforts to rid the country of asylum seekers. Israeli officials have implied that the asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would receive some kind of legal status and be able to build their lives there. However, testimonies of those asylum seekers who left for Rwanda paint an entirely different — and much grimmer — picture: they were denied formal status in Rwanda, then trafficked into Uganda. From there they faced a choice: return to their countries of origin, where they could be killed or imprisoned, or risk the journey to Libya, where they would attempt the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
In a report that collected testimonies from Eritrean asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, the asylum seekers warned those still in Israel: “You want to die? Then go back. If you don’t want to die, stay in Israel.”
Hundreds of activists and asylum seekers are demonstrating outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya on Wednedsay.