In a controversial ruling, an Israeli court Thursday upheld the planned deportation of an estimated 1,500 South Sudanese thought to have entered the country illegally, sparking outrage among human rights organisations.
The deportations, which were originally ordered by the Interior Ministry on April 1, were temporarily suspended after human rights groups petitioned on the grounds that repatriation would ultimately place South Sudanese immigrants in harm’s way, as tensions between the Sudans continue to mount.
While some are economic migrants, human rights groups argue that many are refugees fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries.
The Jerusalem District Court, however, found that the state was not bound to extend de facto asylum to illegal immigrants from South Sudan. It argued that petitioners failed to prove that their deportation would constitute a “risk to life or exposure to serious damage”.
The court said its ruling was also based on reports from Israeli diplomats in South Sudan who assessed the situation on the ground.
With an estimated 60,000 illegal immigrants of African origins in Israel, many of whom come from the Sudans or Eritrea, the topic of immigration has been a highly controversial issue in the country for some time.
Thursday’s decision comes just a little more than two weeks after tensions over immigration boiled over in Tel Aviv’s largely African Hativka neighbourhood, where what began as an anti-immigration protest turned into a riot.
Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is known for his hard-line stance on immigration and who has referred to immigrants as “infiltrators”, welcomed the ruling. Yishai stated that he hoped it was, “the first in a series of measures that would allow for the deportation of all citizens of Eritrea and North Sudan”.
Yisahi also said that he had ordered immigration officers to begin detaining South Sudanese who would then be deported. Although no round ups had reportedly taken place as of Thursday, ministry spokesperson Sabine Haddad said that the illegal immigrants would soon be “processed” and forced to leave the country “’in the near future”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly reiterated his opinion on Israeli military radio that the best way to tackle immigration is to quickly complete construction of a 240 kilometre (150 mile) security barrier along the Egyptian border. Many of those who cross into Israel illegally do so via the country’s porous border with Egypt. Thus far, 170 kilometres (around 106 miles) of the barrier has been built, with the project due to be finished this year.