After years of political and legal battles over how to handle African illegal migrants, Israeli authorities began to implement a policy of deportation or jail on Wednesday, during which the first seven Eritrean asylum seekers who refused deportation to Rwanda were taken to Saharonim Prison, The Times of Israel reported.
The action triggered a hunger strike at Holot Open Detention Center in the Negev, across the street from Saharonim Prison where 750 migrants are staying, most of them from Eritrea. Holot is an “open” detention center where residents are permitted to leave the premises during the day. Saharonim is a regular prison.
In a statement, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and ASSAF — Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel — denounced the new policy:
“This is the first step in what is a globally unprecedented deportation operation, a move tainted by racism and complete disregard for the life and dignity of asylum seekers. It is mind-boggling that Uganda and Rwanda agree to take part in this deportation plan and enable Israel to treat African asylum seekers, some of them fleeing from genocide and dictatorship, in this manner.”
Israel has denied accusations of injustice or inhumanity toward the migrants, officials insisting that the overwhelming majority of roughly 38,000 illegal African migrants in the country are seeking better economic conditions.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that “genuine refugees and their families will remain in Israel. We have no obligation to allow illegal labor migrants who are not refugees to remain here.”
Netanyahu has also rejected claims that the third countries to which they are being sent are dangerous for the refugees.