WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sixty experts in refugee law from the United States, Canada and Europe urged Israel’s attorney general to stop the government from deporting some 38,000 African asylum seekers in the country, saying that carrying out the plan would violate international law.
“We call on the state of Israel to refrain from carrying out the deportations and to release those who are being detained for refusing to cooperate with their prospective deportations,” said the letter sent Sunday to Avichai Mandelblit from experts at universities including Harvard, McGill and Oxford. “In carrying out these deportations, Israel will be in serious breach of its obligations under international refugee and human rights law.”
The letter said, among other charges, that the plan to deport the asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to a third unidentified country would place them at risk because it lacked sufficient oversight.
“While typically such agreements aim to promote fair responsibility-sharing or prevent onward migration, these agreements do the exact opposite,” the letter said. “They take refugees from Israel and place them in countries which are struggling to host and protect the growing numbers of refugees who have already reached them.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the plan to deport 38,000 migrants in January, prompting an outcry from an array of refugee assistance groups and American Jewish groups and figures — including many who typically refrain from publicly disagreeing with Israeli government policies.
Last week, Netanyahu appeared to reverse the policy, announcing a plan to send about half of the migrants abroad through a more regularized process governed by the United Nations. That plan earned widespread plaudits, including from American Jewish groups, but under pressure from his right-wing government partners, Netanyahu reversed himself again within hours and said he would revive his old plan.
In an April 5 letter, 11 U.S. Jewish groups urged Netanyahu to recommit to the U.N. plan.
“In the wake of the Holocaust, Israel played a leading role in the creation of the United Nations Refugee Convention, which established the international framework for the protection of refugees around the world,” said the letter from the Anti-Defamation League; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; HIAS, the lead Jewish immigration advocacy group; and affiliates of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.
“We urge Israel to reflect the principles enshrined in that agreement and find a path forward for the refugees by providing full and fair asylum procedures and actively seeking options for third-country resettlement.”