A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. . (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
The state must do more to protect the rights of detained African migrant mothers and children, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said in its annual 2018 report.
The NGO also said it believes any detention of migrant mothers and children is legally and ethically problematic if it is merely based on the migrants crossing into Israel without permission, and not on committing a crime that shows them to be are dangerous.
However, given that the hotline said it recognized that the situation was not likely to change in the near future, it demanded that the state at the very least show greater attention to protecting the rights of such vulnerable people while they are detained.
More specifically, the report, which was distributed to the press on Sunday, noted instances of varying levels of violence by Israel Prisons Service (IPS) personnel, who it said treated migrants in temporary detention as hard-core criminals instead of refugees fleeing persecution.
The report recommended that the state develop more formal guidelines to especially safeguard the rights of mothers and children in temporary detention.
Furthermore, the NGO said that the state must have an independent investigative entity reviewing complaints against the IPS for physical violence as well as violations of migrants’ attorney-client privilege rights.
Another example in which the hotline said the state violated migrants’ rights in a more glaring manner was its handling of a group of refugees from Sri Lanka who arrived in Israel in October.
The hotline said that these migrants were not even allowed to request recognition of their refugee status and were kept completely cut off from the outer world in the Yahalom and Givon detention centers.
Eventually, the Sri Lankan migrants were sent out of the country in a way that the report said violated their rights.
As of December, there were approximately 33,627 African migrants in detention, down from a high of around 60,000 several years earlier. At the core of the migrants issue is the never-ending debate as to whether they came to Israel to flee persecution, which would entitle them to refugee status, or merely to earn better wages, which would not.
The migrants’ saga in Israel can be divided into multiple stages.
At one stage, the state succeeded in deporting around 25,000 migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, often to other countries such as Rwanda and Uganda.
The state accomplished this with a set of policies that included extended periods of detention, prohibitions on working and other policies which the hotline described as harassment.
It combined these policies with offers to pay the migrants up to several thousand dollars if they agreed to be deported.
At the next stage, a combination of victories by the migrants at the High Court of Justice – along with Rwanda and Uganda suspending in spring 2018 their willingness to take migrants from Israel – led to the closing of the Holot detention center and a heavy reduction in the volume of detained migrants.
Currently, many of the complaints regarding mistreatment of migrants in detention are serious, but the volume of those facing these issues are smaller than in the recent past.
There is an ongoing legal battle about whether the state will start accepting more Eritreans as refugees, or deporting more of them due to a ruling by a lower court in August against Eritreans, but with some counter-trends within the legal establishment and from previous High Court rulings.
Until that legal debate is resolved, the state has mostly frozen its evaluation of migrants’ applications for refugee status, which in any case the state had always processed as a snail’s pace.
Hotline CEO Dr. Ayelet Oz said the report, “sheds light on the reality that the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority does everything it can to keep itself [its treatment of African migrants] far from the public eye... I hope this report will not fall on deaf ears.”
She called on Israel to better fulfill its obligations to refugees under international conventions.