Last week I attended the formal launch of the “Affirmations for Faith Leaders,” at the Religions for Peace 9th World Congress. The Affirmations, a document HIAS helped draft earlier this year, calls on faith leaders around the world and from all faiths to welcome, protect, and honor refugees in their communities. I was proud to stand with my colleagues and felt a sense of hope for the plight of refugees around the world.
However, despite the efforts of non-governmental entities, even the most democratic countries struggle with refugee protection, often subtly undermining it. A new bill before Israel’s Knesset is particularly troubling.
In September, the Israeli High Court ruled that detaining asylum seekers without trial for a minimum of three years violates Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. That decision was heartening for refugee advocates around the world, and is in line with detention guidelines of the UN Refugee Agency.
The new measure, which passed its first reading in Knesset on Monday, and expected to pass next week, will circumvent the unanimous ruling of the Israeli High Court.
Under the draft of the new law, asylum seekers who cannot be deported because of danger to their lives or freedom would be transferred to an “open facility,” after one year in administrative detention. Some asylum seekers not currently detained might also be subject to this corralling.
Media reports indicate they will likely be sent to Sadot, in the Negev desert, which will be run by the Israeli Prison Service, where they will be required to report in three times a day to prevent work or flight, and there will be no limit on the length of residence.
The High Court set a December 15 deadline for when 1,750 asylum seekers and migrants must be individually examined for release. This bill is clearly an attempt to circumvent the High Court’s decision.
This week, HIAS and thirteen other Jewish organizations whose missions are to promote human rights delivered an open letter to the Prime Minister's Office in Israel and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. It urges the government to recommit itself to the design and implementation of asylum policies that are consistent with the decisions of Israel’s own independent judiciary and its international law obligations.
Israel has a great opportunity to implement a comprehensive, humane, and efficient asylum system if it follows the High Court’s ruling and does not pass this bill.