Around 20,000 Israelis and African migrants took to the streets in Tel Aviv recently. The campaigners are protesting a government policy of detaining and deporting African asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country.
In early February, Israel began issuing expulsion orders to African migrants and asylum seekers whose asylum claims had been refused by the government. Most were from Eritrea and Sudan. The orders came under new rules announced in December 2017.
The rules give people the choice to be sent to a “third country” by the end of March. Otherwise they will face detention and imprisonment. The receiving countries will reportedly receive US$5,000 [£3,608] per asylum seeker they accept, while the asylum seekers themselves receive a plane ticket plus US$3,500 [£2,525] each.
The “third countries” have not been officially named, but they were reported to be Rwanda and Uganda. However, both countries subsequently denied signing a deal with Israel.
It is the Israeli regime of deportation and detention that is the root cause for the distress of the African migrants and asylum seekers on its soil. It is almost impossible to even launch an asylum claim let alone become a recognised refugee.
Only 11 African asylum seekers, ten from Eritrea and one from Sudan, were given refugee status between 2009 and 2017.
However, in what might prove to be a landmark ruling, an Israeli special appeals court gave a ruling on 15 February. This was in the case of an Eritrean asylum seeker that desertion from the Eritrean military provided a valid claim for asylum.
This ruling could affect many Eritreans threatened with deportation but is unlikely to change wider attitudes among Israeli authorities. In any case, the authorities will appeal.