Israel: Sudanese refugees deported

Issue 

On August 20, Israel deported 50 Sudanese refugees who had entered the country from Egypt. The deportation went ahead despite 63 of the 120 members of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) signing a petition calling on the Olmert government to allow them to remain in Israel until an alternative country could be found to take them in.

The deported refugees were from the Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the past two years. There are currently 2800 asylum seekers, primarily from Africa, within Israel. Around 1200 are from Sudan.

Sudanese citizens arrested in Israel are officially considered a "security threat", as Israel has designated Sudan an "enemy state". As a result, Israel has detained many Sudanese refugees under the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, rather than the Entrance to Israel Law. Under the Entrance to Israel Law, refugees and illegal immigrants have the right to judicial oversight. There is no similar provision in the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

The Prevention of Infiltration Law allows refugees to be held for years in detention. Israel first enacted the law in order to prevent 750,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled Zionist terror gangs in 1947 and 1948 from returning to their homes in the territory claimed by the newly established state of Israel. The law was enacted in contravention of international laws and resolutions passed by the UN recognising the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Under the law, an "infiltrator" is anyone who "entered Israel knowingly and unlawfully" after November 29, 1947, despite the fact that the state was not established until six months later. According to the law, a person is "unlawful" if they are a citizen of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Trans-Jordan, Iraq or Yemen; if they were resident or a visitor of anyone of those countries or any part of Palestine outside of Israel; or if they are a Palestinian citizen or resident without Israeli nationality or citizenship, or whose citizenship is "doubtful" and who had "left his ordinary place of residence in an area which has become part of Israel for a place outside of Israel". Under the law, an "infiltrator" can be jailed for up to 15 years.

Around 30,000 Palestinian refugees were either arrested by Israel and deported to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan or jailed and then expelled when their prison sentence ended. In addition, many internally displaced Palestinian refugees who remained in the borders of what was to become Israel but had been unable to gain Israeli citizenship were rounded up and deported under the law. In an attempt to prevent Palestinian refugees from re-entering Israel, the Zionist state also razed Palestinian villages along the new Israeli border and established settlements. A policy of "free fire" was adopted in the border settlements, enabling the shooting of any Palestinians attempting to return to their homes.

According to Badil, an Israel-based Palestinian residence and refugee advocacy group, the 1954 law worked hand in hand with the "absentee" property laws that allowed the Israeli state to "legally" take control of property and land belonging to Palestinian refugees and prevent their return to their homes.

In the case of the Sudanese refugees, Israel contends that it has the right to return refugees to the country they were "resident" or "visitors" in prior to arriving in Israel, in this case Egypt.

A poll by the Kevoon Institute found that 47% of Israelis supported the government expelling the Sudanese refugees, while 39% opposed it. YNet reported on August 6 that "Of those who identified themselves as strictly Orthodox, 67% were in favor of expulsion compared to 13% who opposed it. Among respondents who identified themselves as religious, 55% were in favor of expulsion compared to 35% who were opposed. Similar figures were noted for respondents who defined themselves as traditional — 52% favored expulsion compared to 31% who opposed it.

"The only sector where support for the government's policy was the minority opinion was among secular respondents — 39% favored expulsion compared to 49% who opposed it."