Israel: New testimonies show Israeli deportations putting Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers at risk in Uganda

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against the deportation plan, in front of the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya, on February 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PUBLIC STATEMENT

AI Index: MDE 15/8225/2018
13 April 2018

Israel has continued to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to Uganda until at least January 2018, Amnesty International revealed today, despite statements by the Ugandan government that no agreement had been in place with Israel to receive them. New research by the organization shows that, once in Uganda, deported asylum seekers have not received papers, are without legal protection and remain vulnerable to exploitation, despite written assurances from Israel they would be protected.

On 13 April 2018 the Ugandan government announced it was “positively considering” a request by Israel to relocate about 500 Eritrean and Sudanese “refugees”. Although the details of the agreement are unclear, the Ugandan government stated that asylum-seekers would “undergo a rigorous vetting process” before being granted asylum in the country.

Amnesty International has collected new testimonies from ten Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers deported from Israel to Uganda between February 2017 and January 2018. Seven of them are still in Uganda, while the remaining three have left for other countries in Africa.

These testimonies show uniform reception procedures upon arrival in Uganda that raise serious concerns for the rights of those deported, including the risk of forcible return to their country of origin. Asylum seekers told Amnesty International that Ugandan individuals were waiting for them at the airport when they arrived from Israel and then escorted them out of the airport via back passages, circumventing immigration and customs checks. These Ugandan individuals then took the Israeli issued travel papers from the asylum seekers, leaving them with no visa or other document to show regular entry into the country. One of the deportees was told that their papers had to be sent back to Israel. Taxis then took them to a hotel in Kampala, where rooms had been paid for in advance for two or three nights.

“It’s like a kidnapping” one Eritrean asylum-seeker described the experience to Amnesty International.

Israeli officials have issued documents and given verbal assurances to deportees that they will receive a residence permit in Uganda to allow them to work and protect them from forcible return to their home country. Israel also gives them US$3,500 upon departure. Once in Uganda, however, asylum-seekers interviewed by Amnesty international found these promises to be empty. Their irregular migration status has left them at risk of detention and forcible return to their country of origin.

One of the asylum-seekers interviewed by Amnesty International was arrested by Ugandan police shortly after arriving in the country together with five other deportees from Israel and beaten for more than three hours. “They were asking: ‘you are illegal, how did you enter the country?’ They took all the money we had from Israel” he told the organization. The group managed to pay the police to be released and left Uganda two days later.

At least four of those who remain in Uganda tried to start the process to seek asylum in Uganda through a middleman, who asked them for money. One deportee gave US$400 to a middleman who promised him papers and then disappeared. At least three of those interviewed by Amnesty International expressed concern that, because they were from Israel, they would be rejected if they attempted to submit an asylum claim.

One of the deportees told Amnesty International that he recently received a call from an Israeli immigration official, who asked him details about his current situation in Uganda. “I told him it’s very bad: I have no job and no papers” he told Amnesty International.

Only 11 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals have been granted refugee status in Israel since 2013. According to the Israeli government, 1,749 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers were deported to Uganda between 2015 and 2018, including 630 people in 2017 and 128 people in January-March 2018.

The Ugandan government, however, has consistently denied the existence of any agreement for the reception of deportees from Israel, implicitly denying the presence of asylum-seekers arriving from Israel on their territory and refusing to acknowledge any duty towards them. On 3 April 2018 Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Henry Okello Oryem, was quoted in the media saying: “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

The Israeli High Court of Justice is currently hearing a case on the legality of the deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers from Israel. The Court has requested the Israeli government to provide information in the next few days about its “updated agreement” with Uganda, allowing for “involuntary removals”.

The deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers from Israel are illegal under international law as they violate the prohibition of non-refoulement. This is the prohibition against transferring anyone to a place where they would be at real risk of persecution and other serious human rights violations, or where they would not be protected against such a transfer later.

Israel boasts one of the highest gross domestic products (GDPs) in the world, making it one of the most prosperous and wealthy countries in the Middle East. Israel’s GDP per capita is more than 55 times that of Uganda, while Uganda’s refugee population is more than 20 times that of Israel.

There is an onus of responsibility on the Israeli government to protect the world’s refugees and accept asylum seekers in desperate need of a home. The forced – and illegal – deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers is an abandonment of this responsibility. It is an example of the ill-thought-out policies that have fed the so-called global refugee crisis.

The Israeli government must immediately halt the deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to Uganda and grant them access to a fair and effective refugee status determination procedure. Meanwhile, the government of Uganda must immediately cease any co-operation with the Israeli government to carry out illegal deportations.

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Sharing the responsibility for refugees: A new global compact

An aerial view of the Za'atri refugee camp, Jordan, Wikimedia Commons

An aerial view of the Za’atri refugee camp, Jordan, Wikimedia Commons

Amnesty International, Sharing the responsibility for refugees: A new global compact, 9 May 2016, Index number: IOR 40/3906/2016

Wealthy states and the international community as a whole have failed to equitably share responsibility for managing the ongoing global refugee crisis. In his report In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, published today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed a “Global Compact on responsibility-sharing” to create a more predictable and equitable way of responding to large movements of refugees.

This briefing urges states to use key upcoming international meetings to move from short-term stop-gap measures to long-term, proactive and globally coordinated solutions.

At the UN General Assembly High-Level Plenary on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants in September 2016, states should adopt a new Global Compact on predictable and equitable refugee responsibility-sharing, based on international human rights and refugee law. The Global Compact should include:

  • A permanent distribution system of resettlement places, based on objective criteria;
  • In cases of large movements of refugees, an additional distribution system to admit refugees through expedited safe and legal routes (“legal pathways” for admission) based on objective criteria;
  • Guaranteed full, flexible and predictable funding for refugee protection and meaningful financial support to countries hosting large numbers of refugees, over and above existing development assistance programmes;
  • Strengthened refugee status determination systems and increased use of prima facie recognition of refugee status;
  • Respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of refugees in their country of asylum, including the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living, access to education, healthcare and other services, and economic self-reliance.

Global #migration and #refugee governance outlook 2016

Thank you to Stefan Rother for this precious advocacy diary!

The GFMD, Migration, Development and Human Rights

GFMD Bangladesh“2016 has well become THE migrant year”, stated Peter Sutherland, UN Secretary Generals’ Special Representative for International Migration, in a recent webinar. Obviously, migration has been brought to the top of the international agenda for some time now, but this year will see a number of high-level events addressing the issue. This post will provide an overview – without neglecting the agency of migrants and their organizations themselves and their upcoming events.

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URGENT ACTION: Safety and health of Somali refugee at risk

A 23-year-old Somali refugee, allegedly raped in July on the island nation of Nauru, in the Central Pacific, is now 15 weeks pregnant. She is in urgent need of an abortion and mental health care. After bringing her to Australia to have an abortion, which was not carried out, the government of Australia unlawfully returned her to Nauru, where her safety and health are at risk.

Amnesty International UA: 239/15 Index: ASA 12/2717/2015 Issue Date: 22 October 2015

Abyan (not her real name), a 23-year-old Somali refugee, requested the Australian authorities to allow her into Australia to have an abortion after falling pregnant as a result of an alleged rape in July in Nauru, an island nation in the Central Pacific. Abortion services are not available in Nauru and abortion is criminalized.

In 2013 Abyan tried to reach Australia by boat to seek asylum and arrived on Christmas Island (a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean) in October 2013. As part of its “offshore processing” policy, the Australian government forcibly transferred her to Nauru for her asylum claim to be determined there. At the time of the alleged rape, in July 2015, Abyan was living in Nauru after having been recognised as a refugee.

Following several requests to the Australian authorities, the Australian government brought her to Australia to terminate her pregnancy on 11 October and held her at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. As she missed a medical appointment, on 16 October the Australian government flew her back to Nauru, where her safety and health are at risk.

The government of Australia claims that Abyan changed her mind about terminating her pregnancy while in Australia. She denies the claims and has made clear that she still wants an abortion. The Australian government unlawfully returned her to Nauru without giving her the possibility to challenge her transfer in court.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

  • Urging the Australian authorities to ensure Abyan’s health and safety by immediately transferring her to Australia;
  • Calling on them to ensure that Abyan has access to all appropriate medical and psychological services, including access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information in a language she understands and in accordance with her wishes;
  • Calling on them to guarantee Abyan’s right to information about, and access to, safe and legal abortion services in accordance with her wishes.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 3 DECEMBER 2015 TO:

Prime Minister
The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia
Fax: +61 2 6277 4100
Twitter: @TurnbullMalcolm
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
The Hon. Peter Dutton MP
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia
Fax: +61 2 6277 4100
Email: minister@border.gov.au
Twitter: @PeterDutton_MP
Salutation: Dear Minister

For Twitter posts:
#IstandwithAbyan

Abyan's note to the Australian authorities, 18 October 2015, source: Change.org

Abyan’s note to the Australian authorities, 18 October 2015, source: Change.org

Additional information

At a minimum, abortion services should be made available where pregnancy is the result of a ‘sexual crime’ such as rape. This service should be offered to any woman presenting herself to medical staff requesting a termination of pregnancy on these grounds, without being compelled to undergo unnecessary administrative or judicial procedures, such as pressing charges against the perpetrator or identifying the rapist. Denying Abyan an abortion in these circumstances violates the right to privacy and to health and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.

In November 2012, the government of Australia announced that asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat would be “processed” (i.e. their asylum claim would be determined) in the offshore migration detention centres on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. Australia started transferring asylum-seekers to the two facilities immediately.

According to official statistics, as of 31 August 2015, 653 people (446 men, 114 women and 93 children, including infants) were detained at the Nauru migration detention centre.
A recent Australian government review by Australia’s former integrity commissioner Philip Moss (the Moss Review) detailed allegations of sexual harassment and sexual and physical violence at the Nauru migration detention centre. The Moss Review found that, since the reopening of the centre on Nauru in August 2012 the facility has operated without appropriate policies and procedures to protect detainees from physical and sexual assault. The review detailed numerous allegations of sexual exploitation, sexual harassment and sexual assault within the centre, including cases of rape. Victims of sexual assault included women and children, and highlighted that many asylum-seekers detained in the centre hold concerns about their personal safety and privacy within the facility.

When their claim for asylum is determined, refugees in Nauru are allowed to leave the detention centre. They are not, however, allowed to relocate to Australia, where they intended to seek asylum in the first place.

Several asylum seekers and refugees have publicly reported concerns about their safety on Nauru. According to media sources, there have been at least 20 sexual assaults on asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru in the past year.

On 5 October the government of Nauru declared that the centre would become an “open centre” and that detention of all asylum seekers would be ended. Nauran authorities have refused entry to international media and human rights organizations, making it impossible to verify the situation.

Since early 2014, Amnesty International has requested three times permission from the government of Nauru to visit. The first request was denied and subsequent requests have not been responded to.

Abortion is criminalized under the domestic legislation of Nauru. The Criminal Code of Nauru punishes abortion with fourteen years of imprisonment with hard labour (Article 224); a woman who causes or allows her own miscarriage or abortion is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for seven years.

Name: Abyan (not her real name)
Gender m/f: f

Amnesty International UA: 239/15 Index: ASA 12/2717/2015 Issue Date: 22 October 2015

 

The EU is in dangerous territory with “safe” country lists for asylum-seekers

Lampedusa (Photo: noborder network/ Sara Prestianni)

Lampedusa (Photo: noborder network/ Sara Prestianni)

On 20 July the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council recommended that EU member states assess whether to include Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo) in a possible common EU list of “safe countries of origin”. However, the “safe countries of origin” concept has little to do either with EU member states’ human rights obligations or with an evidence-based, rational assessment of the current reality of asylum in Europe.

Since 2005, EU law allows member states to designate certain countries as “safe” to make the asylum process quicker and cheaper. The asylum applications of those from “safe” countries can be examined at the border or in transit zones and in fast-track procedures. But quick and cheap can come at the expense of legality and fairness.

“Safe countries of origin” procedures are inherently unfair. The general presumption is that a country on the “safe” list does not “normally” produce refugees, so its nationals’ asylum claims are unfounded. It is up to the asylum seeker to prove otherwise – which is difficult to do, since documents and other evidence are often lost during long and turbulent journeys. The task becomes almost impossible since national accelerated procedures for “safe” countries impose strict time limits, which can be as short as two or three days.

Not only is this unfair; it is inherently discriminatory. What “safe countries of origin” procedures ultimately boil down to is that some asylum seekers are presumed to be bogus solely on the basis of their nationality. The prohibition of discrimination based on nationality is one of the most fundamental principles of international law, recognized in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and numerous others international agreements. Only three days after the EU decision, Canada’s Federal Court struck down as unconstitutional and discriminatory a government decision to designate 26 EU countries and the USA as “safe countries of origin” (2015 FC 892).

The assumption that people coming from certain countries do not need protection because their country is inherently “safe” runs against one of the key foundations of refugee law, i.e. the individual nature of the need for international protection. The idea that someone’s risk of being persecuted may be assessed on the basis of whether or not there is “generally” persecution in their country is simplistic. In fact, specific individuals (journalists, lawyers, opposition leaders, human rights defenders or members of ethnic or religious minorities) face persecution exactly because of what makes them the individual that they are: their gender, race, ethnicity, political and religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.

For this reason, even countries that portray themselves as “generally safe” can produce asylum seekers and refugees. EU countries are no exception. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at the end of 2014 nearly 50,000 people from the 28 EU member states had been recognized as refugees around the world, while a further 3,000 EU nationals were waiting for their asylum case to be decided (source: UNHCR Global Trends 2014).

With respect to Western Balkan countries, the EU decision ignores that in 2014 the French Conseil d’Etat and the Belgian Conseil d’Etat respectively withdrew Kosovo and Albania from their country’s list of “safe countries of origin”. The decision also ignores the fact that in certain states within the Balkans, specific groups may be at real risk of persecution. Few countries are, for example, able to provide LGBTI people or independent journalists whose lives are at risk with adequate protection. In Kosovo, UNHCR has identified a number of groups at “particular risk of persecution or serious harm… including through cumulative discriminatory acts”, including Serbs and Albanians in a minority situation and Roma.

So, if there is no such thing as a “safe country of origin”, what was behind the EU decision to potentially consider Western Balkan states as “safe”? The decision mentions these countries’ “European perspective” and the fact that their nationals are exempt from visa requirements. In other words, Western Balkans countries may be considered to be “safe” merely because they are or may become candidates for EU accession, not because of their ability to respect, protect and promote human rights. The arbitrary nature of any determination of “safe countries of origin”, either at the EU or at the national level, is evident.

In sum, “safe countries of origin” procedures are unfair, unlawful and absurd. The possible selection of Western Balkans countries is superficial and arbitrary. The very substantive danger of returning to persecution someone whose asylum claim is valid should outweigh any consideration based on expediency.

Thank you to: Nicola Delvino, Conor Fortune, Sian Jones and Anna Shea.

How to cite this article:
Francesca Pizzutelli, “The EU is in dangerous territory with “safe” country list for asylum-seekers”, The Rights Angle, https://therightsangle.wordpress.com/, 24 July 2015.