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Released Eritreans and Sudanese leaving the Holot detention center in Israel's southern Negev desert on August 25, 2015.  ©2015 Reuters/Amir Cohen

(Tel Aviv) – The Israeli authorities’ declared ban on recently released Eritrean and Sudanese nationals living and working in Tel Aviv and Eilat violates their right to freedom of movement, Human Rights Watch said today. About 41,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals live in Israel, most of them in Tel Aviv, Arad, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Eilat, and Jerusalem, although there are no known statistics showing how many live in each city.

Israel’s Interior Ministry announced the ban on August 23, 2015, three days before the Israeli High Court’s deadline for the release of anyone held at the Holot “Residency Center” for more than one year. The authorities released 1,178 Eritreans and Sudanese from Holot on August 25 and 26. Interior Minister Silvan Shalom announced on his Facebook page on August 23 that “infiltrators released from Holot will not be allowed to reach Tel Aviv and Eilat,” giving no reason and citing no legal basis. In a radio interview earlier that day, he vowed to “do everything in my power to prevent them [the released Sudanese and Eritreans] from coming to Tel Aviv.”

“The Israeli authorities have made no secret about their wanting to make Eritrean and Sudanese nationals’ lives so miserable that they leave the country,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Banning the released Eritreans and Sudanese from living in their communities in major Israeli cities simply replaces illegal detention in Holot with illegal movement restrictions.”

Under international law, the Israeli government can restrict the right to freedom of movement – whether of Israelis or foreign nationals – only when necessary to protect national security, public order, or public health. Absent a lawful justification under international law, which it has not cited, the Israeli government should immediately rescind the ban, Human Rights Watch said.

Measures taken by Israel to coerce Eritreans and Sudanese into leaving Israel have included laws authorizing their prolonged or indefinite detention in prisons or at Holot, a remote desert facility where residents are required to check in daily. Israel’s High Court has twice ruled that the laws restricting “infiltrators” to Holot violate their right to liberty under the country’s Basic Law.

In response, in December 2014 the authorities limited detention in Holot to a maximum of 20 months. On August 11, 2015, the High Court ruled that Holot could remain open, but that the Israeli Parliament had six months to reduce the length of detention. In the meantime, it ordered the authorities to release all detainees held for more than 12 months by August 26.

The Israeli authorities have made no secret about their wanting to make Eritrean and Sudanese nationals’ lives so miserable that they leave the country. Banning the released Eritreans and Sudanese from living in their communities in major Israeli cities simply replaces illegal detention in Holot with illegal movement restrictions.
Gerry Simpson

Senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch

An Israeli refugee lawyer told Human Rights Watch that immigration officials at Holot issued two-month conditional release permits to the Eritreans and Sudanese released on August 25 and 26 that provide the permit holder “will not work and will not reside in Tel Aviv or Eilat.”

Sections 12 and 13 of the 1952 Entry into Israel Law allow the authorities to detain anyone breaching conditions of conditional release permits. Some of the Eritreans and Sudanese released from Holot told journalists that they had previously lived in Tel Aviv or Eilat and had nowhere else to go. Others said they intended to travel to other cities.

On August 25, authorities in Arad, a city about 70 kilometers from Holot, arrested and briefly detained about 20 of those released from Holot when they entered the city. Earlier, Arad’s mayor, Ben Hamo, stated on his Facebook page that he had ordered police to patrol the city entrances to prevent people released from Holot from entering.

Prior to December 2012, when Israel sealed off its border with Egypt, about 50,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals entered Israel via the Sinai Peninsula, where traffickers tortured and abused many of them. Because they entered Israel irregularly – without passing through an official border post – the Israeli authorities call them “infiltrators,” and have said they should all leave Israel.

However, Israeli officials have acknowledged that they cannot deport Eritreans to Eritrea due to the severity of human rights violations there, nor can they deport Sudanese to their home country because Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan. In Sudan, anyone who visits Israel faces a criminal penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The country is also responsible for pervasive atrocities and other human rights abuse.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch reported on a series of measures that the Israeli authorities have taken to unlawfully coerce Eritreans and Sudanese into leaving Israel.

Until early 2013, Israel blocked Eritreans and Sudanese from seeking asylum. As of March 2015, immigration authorities say they had registered 5,573 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims and processed 2,044, recognizing only 4 Eritreans and not a single Sudanese as refugees. This 0.1 percent recognition rate contrasts sharply with worldwide protection rates for Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers that, in 2013, stood at 90 and 67 percent respectively, reflecting the severity of human rights abuses in both countries.

According to the Israeli Interior Ministry, from January 2013 through July 2015, 5,316 Sudanese left Israel, of whom 4,608 returned to Sudan and 708 left for other countries. During the same period, 3,039 Eritreans left Israel, of whom 1,059 returned home and 1,980 went to other countries.

International law prohibits restrictions on free movement unless “it is provided for by law … and necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.” According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, any such restrictions must be non-discriminatory so that any differential treatment between non-citizens and citizens on the grounds of their citizenship must be strictly justified. Finally, restrictions must be proportionate to the aim sought to be achieved.

“After three High Court rulings ordering an overhaul of an unlawful detention policy, the authorities have now added new illegal restrictions on freedom of movement to the long list of measures aimed at coercing the mass departure of Eritreans and Sudanese from Israel,” Simpson said.

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