Israel plans to expel thousands of African refugees to an unidentified third country, according to a court document obtained Monday, in an initiative that has provoked concerns from human rights groups.
The program is an effort to confront one of Israel’s more persistent problems: What to do with some 60,000 African migrants – the majority from Eritrea and Sudan – who have illegally crossed the border into Israel from Egypt over the past eight years.
During a Supreme Court hearing on Sunday that questioned the legality of detaining asylum-seekers who entered Israel secretly, a government attorney said an agreement to resettle “infiltrators from Eritrea” had been reached with an unidentified third country, according to Reuters.
“There is an arrangement with one country, which will be an end destination and not a transit point,” the lawyer said, according to a transcript provided by the Justice Ministry on Monday.
There are an estimated 35,000 Eritreans currently living illegally in Israel, but deporting them to their homeland, a state accused of torture last year by the U.N. human rights chief, is difficult under international law.
Resettling the migrants in another country could also raise legal issues. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says resettlement can only be considered after refugee status has been granted – which Israel has not done – although exceptions can be made.
Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, states are obligated not to send refugees to countries where they would face physical or political danger. It is unclear whether that requires the convention’s signatories, of which Israel is one, to monitor the refugees indefinitely after they are deported.
Read more: RT