Israeli court backs deportation plan for South Sudanese migrants
An Israeli court has upheld the planned deportation of South Sudanese migrants deemed to have entered Israel illegally, although government pledges of a wider crackdown on African migrants remains open to question.
Rejecting a petition by human rights groups that had delayed the interior ministry’s deportation order of 1 April, the Jerusalem district court ruled the state was not obligated to extend de facto asylum to the estimated 1,500 migrants from South Sudan.
The court said petitioners had not proven that deportees would face “risk to life or exposure to serious damage”, supporting assessments by Israeli diplomats in South Sudan, which declared independence last year after decades of fighting with northern neighbour Sudan.
Most of the approximately 60,000 Africans who have walked into Israel through its porous desert border with Egypt are from Sudan, an overwhelmingly Arab-Muslim nation that does not recognise the Jewish state, and from war-ravaged Eritrea.
The Israeli government sees the migrants as an economic and demographic threat to the country’s already ethnically strained population of 7.8 million, and anti-African street protests in urban centres have turned increasingly violent.
But while Israel says the vast majority came illegally to work, humanitarian agencies argue many of the migrants should be considered as refugees with asylum rights.
William Tall of the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said the Jerusalem court’s support for the interior ministry’s removal of “collective protection” status for South Sudanese migrants appeared to be in line with the formal end of their country’s war with Sudan.
“We have been assured by the government that they [the South Sudanese] still enjoy the individual opportunity to apply for asylum,” Tall told Reuters, noting that continued territorial disputes between Khartoum and Juba may still justify refugee claims.
The interior minister, Eli Yishai, said he had ordered immigration inspectors to start detaining South Sudanese people and preparing their deportation.
A ministry spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad, said on Thursday that there had been no roundups yet, but that the 1,500 migrants would now be processed for deportation “in the near future”.
Another official said Israel had assigned 11 clerks to vet any refugee claims, many of which could be complicated by a lack of documentation from some applicants. The official predicted that processing for deportation would take several weeks.