Over the past eight years, Israel has employed a number of “coercive measures” to deport thousands of African refugees from within its borders, putting their lives at risk, Human Rights Watch, or HRW, said in a report published Tuesday.
The report, titled “Make Their Lives Miserable,” claimed that 6,400 Sudanese asylum seekers and 367 Eritreans, fleeing persecution and human rights abuses in their home countries, were forced to leave Israel between January 2013 and June 2014. This was a direct result of Israel’s “unlawful coercion policy,” which gave the asylum seekers the choice of “living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centers or of risking detention and abuse back home,” the report alleged.
Israel has reportedly argued that the African migrants left the country voluntarily, adding that it has not broken its commitments as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, which is built on the principle of non-refoulement, aimed at protecting refugees from returning to a country where they could face serious threats to life or freedom.
The report added that Israeli authorities, acting under the ambit of the Prevention of Infiltration Law, had indefinitely detained thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese nationals entering illegally through the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
These asylum seekers, many of whom were held at the Holot Residency Centre in the southern Negev desert, were denied access to a fair legal system, health care facilities or work permits, severely restricting their movements, the report said.
“Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive,” Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at HRW and author of the report, said in a statement. “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.”
Israel, since its formation in 1948, has shown extreme reluctance in granting asylum to African refugees. Since 1948, only 200 individuals have been officially recognized as refugees by the government, according to figures released by the African Refugee Development Center in Israel.