(UNHCR, November 17, 2017) UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is seriously concerned by proposals announced yesterday by Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. Under these proposals, Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers and refugees would be compelled to accept relocation to countries in Africa or face imprisonment in Israel. The closure of the Holot facility housing many of the Eritreans and Sudanese, will also be decided in the next three months.
This plan follows a ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice in August which sanctioned the controversial forced relocation policy introduced by the Israeli Government in March 2015, provided that certain safeguards were put in place in third countries.
From the start of this programme in December 2013 until June 2017, some 4,000 Eritrean and Sudanese were relocated under the Government’s ‘voluntary departure programme’ to two African countries, named in media reports as Rwanda and Uganda.
Due to the secrecy surrounding this policy and the lack of transparency concerning its implementation, it has been very difficult for UNHCR to follow up and systematically monitor the situation of people relocated to these African countries. UNHCR, however, is concerned that these persons have not found adequate safety or a durable solution to their plight and that many have subsequently attempted dangerous onward movements within Africa or to Europe.
“As party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Israel has legal obligations to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk. “UNHCR and the international community have been assisting Israel to meet its international obligations, including by resettling or finding other durable solutions for 2,400 refugees who have departed from Israel in the last couple of years.”
There are some 27,500 Eritreans and 7,800 Sudanese in Israel. Since Israel took over refugee status determination from UNHCR in 2009, only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese have been recognized as refugees by the authorities. Another 200 Sudanese, all from Darfur, were recently granted humanitarian status in Israel.