The interior minister is reexamining the option of expelling African asylum seekers to Eritrea and Sudan, in the wake of the peace treaty signed last month between Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to a report Tuesday.
The renewed initiative, similar to that abandoned in April after Israel was unable to secure deals with any third-party countries, appears to replace a United Nations proposal to resettle half the asylum seekers — a proposal that was accepted then rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu within 24 hours in April.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted the terms of a peace treaty with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in June and both sides declared peace in July, when Abiy visited Eritrea.
“If there is peace, the main reason that the Eritreans want to be recognized as refugees — fleeing or deserting the army — is less relevant,” a source in the Interior Ministry told the Haaretz daily. “We are waiting to see how other countries will act.”
In the past decades many Eritreans fled the country to avoid the compulsory, indefinitely prolonged military conscription, which has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a severe human rights violation.
“There is no doubt that the peace deal was the catalyst for reexamining the subject [of expulsions],” another Interior Ministry source told Haaretz.
Sudan does not recognize Israel and forbids its citizens to have any connection to the Jewish state. Therefore Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel who return face jail or other punishments.
In May Haaretz reported that Israel was exploring the possibility of expelling asylum seekers to Sudan who fled from persecution and genocide.
“We are once again examining alternatives to dealing with migrants and asylum seekers in Israel in order to formulate current policy,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri wrote in a letter some two weeks ago. “For this purpose we have had contact with relevant parties… Similarly, we are examining the general situation in Sudan and Eritrea and what meaning can be drawn from it.”
However, he stressed that the policy of not expelling migrants remained in force because “at this stage no decision has been made to change it,” Haaretz reported.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the government liaison to the Knesset, wrote that expelling asylum seekers from Sudan “is being considered, based on the assessment of the situation regarding the threat posed to them.”
Levin added that the government was also considering reopening the Holot migrant detention facility, which was closed in March when the government failed to secure a deal to deport asylum seekers to a third-party country.
According to the interior ministry, there are around 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, and women or men with families.
About 72 percent of the migrants are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese. Eritrean asylum seekers fled a harsh dictator and compulsory military service that can last for 40 years. Sudanese asylum seekers fled genocide in Darfur as well as fighting between Sudan and South Sudan.
The majority of African asylum seekers arrived in Israel between 2006 and 2012. In 2010, the height of the wave of asylum seekers crossing from the Sinai to Israel, 1,300 people illegally crossed the border each month. Once they crossed the border, Israeli soldiers brought them for processing to holding facilities coordinated with the Population Authority. Afterwards, many were given bus tickets to Tel Aviv’s central bus station, but no other services.
In 2014, Israel completed construction of a 242-kilometer (150-mile) electronic fence along the border with Sinai. Illegal immigration through Sinai dropped to just 11 cases in 2016, and 0 in 2017.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.