GENEVA, March 1, 2018 – The new policy by Israel to deport Eritrean and Sudanese nationals violates international human rights and refugee law, UN human rights experts* have said, calling on the authorities to immediately suspend and revise the policy and its implementation.

Under the policy, tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals – who are among the largest groups of foreign nationals seeking refuge in Israel – will be forcibly sent to unnamed third countries. Authorities reportedly began issuing deportation notices on 4 February. Recent reports show that at least seven Eritreans have been detained indefinitely for refusing to be deported.

“We are concerned that the provisions of this policy and its implementation seriously undermine the rights of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals under international human rights law, refugee, labour and humanitarian law,” the experts said in a joint statement.

Israel’s new policy includes temporary exemptions for certain people, including migrants belonging to particularly vulnerable groups, but the UN experts fear these may be repealed and the removals will eventually cover children, families and individuals with pending asylum claims. Currently, an estimated 20,000 of the 34,700 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals are forced to choose between leaving the country or indefinite detention in Israel.

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, deplored the discriminatory nature of the policy.

“I am deeply concerned that this policy specifically targets individuals from sub-Saharan Africa. By singling out Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, the policy clearly breaches the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin,” she said.

The experts said the policy, formally introduced on 1 January under the title “Procedure for relocation to third countries”, perpetuates the stigmatization of non-citizens as “illegal infiltrators” – a term that has been widely used by public officials in the debate about migration.

“The use of such terms reinforces and further legitimizes discriminatory public discourse and racist attitudes towards migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa,” Ms. Achiume added.

The experts are also alarmed that the policy foresees the indefinite detention of those who refuse to leave Israel. “The detention of migrants should be an exceptional measure of last resort and respect procedural safeguards: it should be ordered by a court of law and be determined case-by-case, it should last for the shortest period of time, it should only be applied when no suitable non-custodial alternatives are available, and children should never be detained for immigration purposes, whatever their status or the status of their parents,” they said.

In light of the secrecy surrounding the third country destinations, the UN experts expressed concern that returnees might not be afforded adequate and effective protection.

“We call on Israel to respect the absolute prohibition of refoulement, which entails an obligation not to return a person, whatever their status, to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that the individual would be at risk of being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or other serious human rights violations,” they said.

In this context, the experts also noted the lack of sufficient guarantees ensuring that Eritreans and Sudanese are not deported from third countries to their country of origin. “We express great concern about the safety of thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese and the risks they face if returned to their home countries,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mr. Aristide Nononsi.

The experts recalled that the principle of non-refoulement applies to all people, regardless of when or how they arrived in the country and regardless of whether or not they qualify as refugees or asylum seekers.

“Moreover, Israel has a legal obligation to ensure that no arbitrary or collective expulsions occur in its territory.

“Any policy of deporting people that fails to provide for due process safeguards, case-by-case risk assessments, and adequate protection measures is in violation of international law and potentially exposes individuals to further human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture,” the experts stressed.

The UN experts have been in contact with the Israeli government to clarify the situation.

*The UN experts: Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Aristide Nononsi, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan; the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.