Canada has raised concerns over Israel’s planned mass deportations of African migrants. Thousands of mainly Sudanese and Eritreans living in Israel are in danger of being expelled or locked up next month as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to address the migrant crises which has become a flashpoint in the country.
Thousands of migrants are said to have been handed a notice with a stark choice: leave Israel with the money provided to an undisclosed country in Africa, or be locked up. As many as 37,000 people could face this bleak prospect next month.
The wave of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants began in 2006, with people fleeing persecution and violence crossing the border illegally from the Sinai desert to Israel. Israel built a 242-kilometre electronic fence along the border in 2014 to prevent what Netanyahu has described as “illegal infiltrators”.
For years, Netanyahu has openly discussed his intentions to expel the migrants. Last August he pledged to deport the migrants, a promise that was seen as rallying call to his far-right supporters ahead of 2019 elections.
Migrants have accused the Israeli government of racism. Hundreds painted themselves white during protest in Tel Aviv with the banner “now I’m white will you still deport me to Rwanda”.
Canada, which resettles the highest number of African asylum seekers from Israel, is opposed to the mass deportations and has officially registered its concerns.
“Canada does not support policies of mass deportations of asylum seekers. The rights of asylum seekers and refugees are laid out in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which Israel is a signatory,” said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“As the country that resettles the highest number of African asylum seekers from Israel, we are in direct contact with the Government of Israel to convey Canada’s concerns about the situation,” Austen was reported as saying by Canadian agency CBC News.
A UN peer-review human rights report last month cited Canada’s concerns over protection of the human rights of migrants in Israel. Officials said that human rights protections in Israel vary based on ethnic or religious groups.
Among Canada’s recommendations to improve human rights in the country was to “take measures to ensure an equal and non-discriminatory institutional approach toward all communities in Israel, particularly Israeli-Arabs and African asylum seekers.”
Other recommendations included reducing restrictions on freedom of movement to allow better access to health services for Palestinians, and protecting the ability of civil society groups to operate freely in the country.