A new Al Jazeera America report examines the Israeli government's 'voluntary departure' policy towards asylum seekers from Africa, many of whom have fled forced conscription in Eritrea or violence in Sudan.
The policy, in place since 2012, was set up to encourage African asylum seekers to leave Israel of their own volition. Asylum seekers who volunteer for return are given a one-way flight and $3,500. Many return to their own countries, despite the danger; some go to third-party countries instead.
RSC Research Associate Dr Reuven Ziegler told Al Jazeera that the programme does not violate the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, which stipulates that asylum seekers cannot be forcibly returned to danger. However, he does not know of any other government that pays asylum seekers to leave. (Israel does not deport asylum seekers to Eritrea, as this would constitute refoulement, and it does not deport asylum seekers to Sudan because the two countries have no diplomatic relations.)
He calls on Israel to make public its agreements with third-party African countries, where it sends Sudanese and Eritrean nationals who volunteer for the programme:
The state is not willing to say which are the destination states, is not willing to publish the agreement with these states, and is not willing at all to say what guarantees at all are provided by these states...These are all factors which I think raise serious concern.
According to recent research by the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, based in Tel Aviv, many asylum seekers volunteer to leave because they feel they have no other viable option. They are not allowed to work, cannot receive medical care or welfare (except in extreme circumstances) and must frequently renew their visas. Others are detained in the Holot Residency Center, an isolated facility located in the desert, where they have little freedom of movement and no right to work.