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Package Deal (Graphic: David Sheen)
Two mind-wrenching reports out of Israel today. In their desperation to rid themselves of African asylum seekers Israel is bargaining them away with offers of weapons.
Senior official says deal nearly sealed with African countries to take tens of thousands of migrants in exchange for arms, military training,
Israel is close to signing a deal with several African countries who will accept tens of thousands of African migrants currently residing in Israel in exchange for a benefits package including security, economic and agricultural aid.
According to a senior official, the security aid will include Israeli arms and military knowledge and training.
Such deals are close to being finalized with at least three African countries, the official said. Israel’s chief negotiator in the talks was Hagai Hadas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special advisor.
Another Israeli official added that Israel continues to explore the possibility of returning North Sudanese and Eritrean migrants to their home countries.
Days after Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved a new protocol of “voluntary return” for African asylum seekers
incarcerated held in detention facilities by Israel, 14 Eritrea nationals boarded a plane at Ben Gurion headed back to their country of origin after signing “consent forms”. Haaretz quoted one Eritrean held in Saharonim, a prison in Israel where African migrants (including children) are held without trial, “I’d rather die in my country than be imprisoned forever in Israel”.
The protocol contradicts the position of the United Nations and human rights groups, according to which an individual cannot legally consent to repatriation while in custody. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has explicitly said that someone being asked to choose between lengthy imprisonment and returning to his country, at the risk of losing his life, cannot be said to be returning “voluntarily.”
Human rights organizations say the border agency recently began pressuring imprisoned migrants to consent to “voluntary” repatriation, and that imprisoned asylum seekers are taken to the Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv on a daily basis to fill out the forms. Imprisoned asylum seekers say Population, Immigration and Border Authority officials urge them to sign the documents, saying the alternative is indefinite detention.
Amnesty International Israel is also concerned that the migrants’ consent was not given entirely of their free will, “taking into account that they are deprived of due, efficient processing of their asylum requests, that there are harsh steps taken against asylum seekers, and racist declarations inciting xenophobia, often made by publicly elected officials.”
Sara Robinson, Refugee Rights Coordinator at Amnesty Israel, says, “If the asylum seekers must choose between indefinite incarceration and jail and torture in Eritrea – this is not a free choice. The Israeli government must release the asylum seekers from custody and examine who is due international protection according to international standards. Israel must begin respecting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and start by releasing them from detention facilities where they were placed without trial.”
On June 23 asylum seekers “detained” at Saharonim declared a hunger strike.