Updated: Feb 21, 2018
Canada has officially raised concerns over Israel's plans to deport thousands of African asylum seekers or put them in prison. Many of the 37,000 people from Sudan and Eritrea who reside in Israel are currently faced with orders to leave their homes. The government of Israel has begun giving notice to asylum seekers, advising them that they must depart to so-called "safe" African countries within 60 days. Furthermore, it's reported that they're being handed plane tickets and cash to do so and if they fail to leave voluntarily, they may be imprisoned.
A spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister stated that Canada does not support mass deportation policies towards asylum seekers, noting that the rights of asylum seekers are set out in the Geneva Convention, which Israel has signed. Canada is a country that rehomes the highest numbers of African asylum-seekers who leave Israel and is currently in talks with the Israeli Government to address their concerns over the situation. Official figures show that 1,880 refugees from Eritrea were rehomed in Canada between 2016-2017.
The Israeli government has not officially stated which African country the migrants may be moved to, but it’s understood that Rwanda and Uganda are possibilities. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called asylum-seekers "illegal infiltrators," and has suggested they have come looking for work as opposed to protection as refugees. Migration from Eritrea and Sudan started in 2006 as people fled across the border to Israel. Then, Israel built an electronic fence, which curbed the problem. However, the migrant situation has reached boiling point in Israel and many people in the country blame migrants for increased levels of crime and for disturbing the social equilibrium within the country.
As part of a 2018 UN human rights report, Canada noted that the protection of human rights in Israel varies depending on the ethnic or religious group and has made recommendations for human rights improvements by taking an approach based on equality and anti-discrimination. Further recommendations include fewer freedom of movement restrictions and allowing Palestinians better access to health services.
Human rights leader Irwin Cotler, criticized Israel's recent announcement but noted the policy did not include families, women, children, and the disabled. Therefore, their policies only target Eritrean men who are single. However, he thinks the country should put a hold on deportation until a fair and effective process can be established for determining refugee status.
So far in Israel, less than 1% of African asylum seekers have been granted refugee status. This compares to around 97% in Canada and Cotler has called on Canada to increase the country's intake to relieve the pressure on Israel. Also, Canadian Jewish groups are encouraging the Liberal government to find ways to rehome deportees within the Canada immigration system.
The situation has been described as extremely challenging for the asylum seekers as well as the Israeli authorities and the country's government has been urged to be as compassionate as possible in their approach. It is hoped that a number of creative measures can be implemented to resolve the situation, including the possibility that Canada will be able to sponsor some of the refugees. This could ultimately help to minimize the plight that many are faced with.
The founder of a Canadian organization for helping asylum seekers in Israel, Enbal Singer, has called on the Canadian government to take away some of the administrative procedures in place to accept asylum seekers and to take measures to implement refugee sponsoring. The group has started a campaign to inform people about the current plight of these refugees. Ms. Singer said that action taken by Israel is in breach of international refugee law as well as being short-sighted and hasty. She has urged the Canadian government to get involved and prevent deportations from taking place while increasing the number of people working in Israel's visa offices to help the UNHCR to process claims.
One Eritrean, now a Canadaian citizen, came to Canada from Israel in 2009 and entered Canada as a privately sponsored asylum seeker. He is now part of the Canada immigration efforts to assist other asylum seekers. In relation to the Israeli government's latest move, he referred to this as an historic mistake.
It should be remembered that asylum seekers are those who aren’t able to apply for a Canada visa or Canada ETA. These routes are open to certain individuals from certain countries and both a Canada ETA and visa allow people to spend time in Canada with the correct authorization in place.