Displacing the displaced: Israel’s abuse of African refugees.

Holot 1

Since 2006 more than 60,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees have entered Israel in search of asylum. Fleeing poverty, ethnic cleansing, genocide and forced conscription into their respective armies, they arrived in Israel, seeking nothing more than to have their rights as refugees recognized and respected. Sadly this is not what they received.

Despite Israel having international obligations as outlined in the 1951 refugee convention and 1967 protocol, Sudanese and Eritrean refugees arriving in Israel have been met with state sanctioned economic exploitation, racism, violence, intimidation and eventual forced imprisonment. They have been denied adequate access to medical care, education and rights to legal employment.  Many have witnessed their business liquidated and their livelihood destroyed. They have also been subject to racial attacks by politicians such as former interior minister Eli Yishai, and Knesset member Miri Regev who referred to them as a “cancer” within Israeli society. Such public incitements of racial discrimination are prohibited under article 20 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Against this backdrop of racial prejudice the government has continually denied African refugees access to a fair and transparent Refugee Status Determination procedure (a requirement under the refugee convention which Israel has ratified). It is therefore not surprising that to date less than 5 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers living in Israel have been officially recognised as refugees, despite thousands having applied. As a result of Israel’s failure to provide them with due process, African refugees living in Israel have been left with no legal status and denied their basic rights as outlined by the UNHCR.

To make matters worse, in December 2013 the government began forcefully attempting to deport refugees whom it refers to as “infiltrators”. However, as Israel is unable to lawfully deport refugees due to its obligations under the 1951 refugee convention, the government has perused a policy of forced incarceration in an attempt to pressure refugees to “voluntarily return home”. This has resulted in the opening of the Holot detention facility. Described by the state as an “open facility”, Holot it is anything but open. It is situated in a military firing zone deep in the desert, isolated from civilization, fenced-in, and operated by the Israeli prison services. Inmates are denied freedom and treated like criminals. Those living in the facility are required to report for register three times a day and failure to do so results in them being sent to Sahronim, a closed prion facility nearby. At present it is estimated that nearly 2,500 refugees are detained in Holot and the number expected to increase significantly.


This incarceration of refugees directly violates article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, “everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law”. In addition to this, the pressuring of refugees to return home is also in direct violation of Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The article declares “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. As most refugees are facing persecution, forced conscription or ethnic cleansing in their home countries,  Israel’s return home policy represents a grave violation of their human rights.

Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers have some of the highest rates of refugee recognition around the world, yet Israel has continued to deny them of their official refugee status and their rights. To detain them without due process with the intention of forcing them into “voluntarily” repatriation, in the knowledge that they will likely be persecuted, represents a grave violation of their human rights. Israel has legal, internationally binding obligations and responsibilities to uphold their rights.

If you feel passionately about this and want to make a difference, please sign and share this petition calling for the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate these human rights abuses committed against African refugees living in Israel and demand the immediate closure of Holot detention facility. http://chn.ge/1mReE5O  

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