Despite safety concerns, ministries back deporting Congolese migrants — report

Foreign and Interior ministry assessments both find those returned to Democratic Republic of Congo could face deadly dangers; Interior Minister Shaked determined to proceed

Congelese activists demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, calling on the government to disregard the newly elected Congelese president at the time, December 18, 2011. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Congelese activists demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, calling on the government to disregard the newly elected Congelese president at the time, December 18, 2011. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Opinions from the Foreign and Interior ministries back a plan by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to send home hundreds of migrants in Israel despite finding that the safety and human rights situation in some districts in the Democratic Republic of Congo is still very problematic and murder is commonplace, the Haaretz daily reported.

The Monday report cited ministry documents obtained by the paper under a freedom of information request and a state response to petitions filed by rights groups against the deportations.

At stake is the fate of some 400 Congolese migrants, including 50 minors, who are sheltering in Israel.

In April, Shaked announced that she was canceling the group protection that Israel had provided to Congolese asylum-seekers since 2002, and told them they had 30 days to file individual asylum requests or be deported.

Six days later, a representative in Israel from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked Shaked to reconsider the move due to the “volatile and unpredictable situation in the country,” the newspaper said.

According to Haaretz, Shaked decided on the move based on information from the Population and Immigration Authority, before the Foreign and Interior ministries had provided their input, which only came in June. Shaked based her decision to move ahead with the deportation plan on the fact that in other countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Sweden or Switzerland, there is no group asylum protection for DRC nationals.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 17, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry assessment found that in Kasai, Ituri and Kivu in the east, “the torching of villages and murders are a common sight,” amid an ongoing battle since 2004 between the army and rebels, some of which are tied to the Islamic State terror group.

The opinion noted that since a change of government in 2019 in Congo there has been some improvement in issues such as human trafficking as well as media freedom and freedom of speech. Foreign Ministry experts advised removing the group protection in stages, beginning with adults who do not have families with children. Asylum requests from adults from the problematic eastern regions should be given careful consideration and all cases involving children should only be considered at a later stage by an inter-ministerial panel, they said.

In its own assessment, the Interior Ministry warned Shaked that there are still problems in Congo and cited a Human Rights Watch report that noted a decline in human rights in 2020.

Nonetheless, the Interior Ministry also gave its support for the deportations, Haaretz reported.

Referring to the Foreign Ministry’s concerns about returning minors to the DRC, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, which was among groups that petitioned against Shaked, told Haaretz that the ministry’s “reservation on the deportation of the children shows that the deportation of the adults will be a life-threatening experiment without any justification.”

Shaked’s office defended the deportation plan, saying in a statement that there is “no justification for a blanket” policy against repatriating Congolese due to concerns over security in their homeland.

Pointing at Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and England, which “return the country’s citizens to their country as a matter of routine,” it said that Shaked had done “what should have been done a long time ago and updated the policy according to the given situation.”

It said the Foreign Ministry “did not raise any objection in principle” but that in any case “the sole authority to set policy in this matter rests with the minister of the interior.”

There are currently Congolese 250 asylum requests that have been filed in Israel, of which only 42 have been decided, with most being rejected, Haaretz reported. Some of the requests were filed over ten years ago.

In the meantime, the Jerusalem District Court has issued a temporary delay on Shaked’s plan following a petition from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and other rights groups.

With the Nyiragongo volcano in the background, people displaced by fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels gather north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 27, 2022. (Moses Sawasawa/AP)

Congo’s security situation has deteriorated over the past year, with increased attacks from various rebel groups, including the M23 rebel group that had been largely inactive for a decade. M23 earlier this year took control of parts of eastern Congo and has been involved in heavy fighting with Congo’s military.

A Human Rights Watch report last week said more than 29 civilians have been summarily killed since mid-June by the armed M23 group, a worrying escalation of violence by the rebel force amid concerns it may also be receiving support from neighboring Rwanda.

The fighting between Congolese troops and M23 rebels has forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes, the rights group said, as M23 has also demonstrated increased firepower and defense capabilities.

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