Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Report slams Israel on African migrant rights

Published:Wednesday | September 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
An African migrant covers his mouth with tape during a protest in front of the US embassy, demanding asylum and work rights from the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, Israel.
African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention centre in southern Israel and walked towards the border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana.

JERUSALEM (AP): An international watchdog organisation has slammed Israel for its treatment of thousands of African migrants, saying it is forcing them to leave the country at grave personal risk.

In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch said Israeli authorities have coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese to return to their homes, where they may face serious abuse.

In response to the report, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad, said Israel was dealing with the challenge of the migrants in a legal and appropriate way.

"The growth in the voluntary repatriation of the migrants by three times from 2013 to 2014 proves that the policy is working," she said in an email.

Detention and torture

The report says that some returning Sudanese have faced torture, arbitrary detention, and treason charges at the hands of the anti-Israel Sudanese government, while returning Eritreans also risk harassment.

For the past several years, Israel has been placing thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in hardscrabble detention centres in the Negev desert. Citing statements by senior Israeli officials including former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Human Rights Watch said the aim of the policy is to make life so intolerable that the migrants leave Israel on their own volition.

"Destroying people's hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive," said report author Gerry Simpson. "Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centres or of risking detention and abuse back home."

Since 2006, some 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai desert, causing great consternation in the mainly poor Israeli neighbourhoods where they have settled. Neighbourhood residents say the migrants engage in petty crime and help turn the areas into slums, claims that have placed great pressure on officials to act to limit the number of migrants in the country.