Human Rights Watch raps Israel’s African migrant policy

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has illegally coerced nearly 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into returning to their home countries, where they risk serious abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Returning Sudanese have faced torture, arbitrary detention and treason charges in Sudan for setting foot in Israel, according to a report released Tuesday by the international human rights group.

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“Israeli officials say they want to make the lives of ‘infiltrators’ so miserable that they leave Israel, and then claim  people are returning home of their own free will,”  said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “International law is clear that when Israel threatens Eritreans and Sudanese with lifelong detention, they aren’t freely deciding to leave Israel and risk harm back home.”

The coercive measures designed to force the asylum seekers to return home included indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of most Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work and severe restrictions to accessing health care.

Israeli authorities require Eritreans and Sudanese to live in the Holot Residency Center in the Negev Desert, and residents must check in at the center three times a day and cannot have a job. If they violate the rules, they risk being sent to the Saharonim  detention center.

Seven Sudanese who returned to Sudan told Human Rights Watch that they left Israel because they feared indefinite detention there, and said they were detained and interrogated upon arrival in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Three were held for long periods during which one was tortured, a second was put in solitary confinement and a third was charged with treason, according to the report.

The report calls on Israel to end the indefinite detention of the asylum seekers; to facilitate the lodging of asylum claims and to review them fairly; and to grant Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applicants temporary status with work authorization for renewable periods of no less than 12 months until it is safe to return home.