On March 12, the High Court of Justice temporarily froze the deportationsand ordered the government to address some of the legal issues surrounding its expulsion policy.
The plan has been condemned by Israeli activists, Holocaust survivors, and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (C) and Judges Hana Meltzer and Niel Hendel arrive to hear an an appeal against deportation of African asylum seekers at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on March 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The state made clear that its administrative procedures in preparation for the deportations will continue, although the court-ordered freeze means that the Population Authority cannot physically deport anyone until the case is resolved.
However, the Population Authority will continue to hold the deportation hearings and give asylum seekers 60-day visas to decide between deportation and imprisonment. In addition, asylum seekers already in Israeli custody for refusing deportation will not be released.
Attorney Eitay Mack, who is representing 119 Israeli activists opposed to the deportations in the case against the government, slammed the Population Authority for continuing to hold asylum seekers who refuse deportation in Saharonim prison while the court case is ongoing.
“It is unthinkable that, as the Jewish nation and Jews around the world celebrate the [Passover] holiday of freedom, several hundred asylum seekers are imprisoned in Saharonim until the respondents are so kind as to submit their updated request,” Mack said. He also denounced the state for “not facing the reality” that they were unprepared to start deportations on April 1, and using the court to draw out the process and keeping asylum seekers in a state of anxiety and uncertainty.
African migrants march from Holot detention center to the Saharonim Prison, an Israeli detention facility for African asylum seekers, on February 22, 2018. (AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA)
After the Holot Detention Center was closed on March 14, approximately 300 asylum seekers who refused deportation orders were sent to Saharonim prison.
The deportation policy offers each asylum seeker $3,500 and a plane ticket to a third country, which are officially unnamed, but have been reported as Uganda and Rwanda. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel that they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.
There are approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese. The vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012, illegally crossing the border from Egypt. The Africans say they fled for their lives and face renewed danger if they return.
Israel considers the vast majority of asylum seekers to be job seekers — economic migrants whose lives were not in danger in their countries of origin — and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. Israeli officials commonly refer to them as “infiltrators.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the “flood” of migrants was worse than Sinai terrorists, and that the asylum seekers threaten Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report