The IRCT is extremely concerned at Israel’s decision to deport Eritrean and Sudanese torture victims seeking protection in the country without considering their physical and psychological trauma and corresponding protection needs.
Group support session for torture victims at Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ASSAF)
There are currently several thousand Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in Israel who have been brutally tortured in their home countries, and again in transit by smugglers in the Sinai Peninsula. In Israel, they seek protection from further torture. Some of the most vulnerable receive rehabilitation support from IRCT member "Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers" (ASSAF) to rebuild their lives.
According to the Procedure for Transfer to Third Countries announced by the Ministry of Interior on 1 January, these refugees will be deported over the next 3 months. This raises serious concerns about their effective access to a refugees status determination and the impact of the deportation on their physical and mental recovery from torture.
Despite clear recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) in 2016, Israel has not only failed to implement a procedure to identify torture victims among refugee populations but it has also fallen short of ensuring that those individuals receive efficient refugee status determination. These recommendations are firmly grounded in international law on non-refoulement and torture victims’ right to rehabilitation.
In light of this, the IRCT strongly encourages the Israeli Government to avoid making irrevocable decisions that detrimentally impact the wellbeing of torture victims by undermining their rights under international and domestic law. To avoid this outcome, the IRCT continues to make our expertise available to support the implementation of the CAT recommendations.
Since December 2013, Israel has transferred thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda in what was referred to by the Israeli government as a "voluntary departure" procedure.
The transfer agreements between Israel and Rwanda on the one hand and Israel and Uganda on the other remain secret, offering no safeguards or details on the status and rights of those who are transferred. However, testimonies collected by Israeli and international organizations indicate that Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees who left Israel under such arrangements have been denied status in the receiving countries.
In fact, many who arrived in Rwanda were not allowed to stay and were smuggled illegally to Uganda by the very people who welcomed them at the Airport. Many asylum seekers said they faced demands for bribes or were robbed along the way. Cases of arbitrary detention were also documented, as were threats of refoulement to Eritrea and problems accessing asylum processes due to a lack of documentation.
According to the Procedure, Eritrean and Sudanese refugees must leave Israel within three months. Once issued with a deportation notice, individuals will have 60 days to leave. Those who wish to appeal the notice must do so in writing within 14 days. Refugees that fail to leave within 60 days will face a hearing and ultimately indefinite detention under the 1952 Entry to Israel Law. While the Procedure temporarily excludes those with an open individual asylum claim, refugees who have not filed an application or who have been rejected will face deportation.
According to Amnesty International, in 2017 approximately 7,000 African asylum seekers have tried and failed to file asylum claims in Israel due to bureaucratic hurdles and a closed-door policy. As it stands, only 10 Eritreans have been recognized as refugees by the Israeli Government.
Currently, women, children, parents and recognized victims of human trafficking are exempt from deportation. However, the Procedure emphasizes that this is only a temporary measure. People with medical conditions, including those with physical and mental disabilities, are not exempt from deportation and neither are torture victims.
There are several thousand refugees in Israel, mainly Eritreans, who survived torture including systematic rape by smugglers in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel has failed to identify and rehabilitate them despite clear recommendations to do so by the UN Committee against Torture and Israel's obligations under the Convention against Torture.