The state signaled a possible softening of its position on the deportation of African migrants on Monday, telling the High Court of Justice that it was pushing back the designated deportation day from April 1 to April 9 at a minimum.
The notification came as part of a legal brief filed by the state on Monday in which it requested more time to respond to the High Court's demands for clarification regarding the deportation policy.
In the same legal brief, the state requested permission to submit classified documents regarding the policy - most likely with regard to the state to which Israel is deporting migrants - to the court, without disclosing them to the petitioners who have sought to strike down the deportation policy.
Lawyers for the petitioners, Avigdor Feldman and Itay Mack, consented to the state's request for more time to respond and noted that according to all signs in the field, the state was completely unprepared to actually start mass deporting or arresting migrants on April 1.
The lawyers also opposed the filing of the classified documents if they would not be allowed to view it, questioning whether the state was dealing with the court in good faith or "altering" terms of a non-existent deal with destination countries for deportation.
In mid-March, the High Court of Justice put a temporary freeze on the state's policy to deport African migrants in a dramatic development which could foreshadow the court tossing the state’s policy as it has in the past.
According to the court's decision, the state had been due to file a comprehensive brief supporting the policy and addressing all related proceedings currently working their way through the judicial system by March 26.
For the last few months, the state has been issuing notices to large segments of the remaining 30,000 plus African migrants in the country that they must accept $3,500 and deportation to a third country or they will be detained on April 1.
Though at first it appeared that the mid-March freeze might only last a couple of weeks, it is starting to seem that it could go on for an extended period.
In mid-March, the justices also leaned hard on the state to explain aspects of its policy of deporting African migrants.
The basis of the policy was a prior High Court ruling permitting the state to deport the migrants as long as they chose deportation “voluntarily;” the destination countries agreed to accept them and that their human rights were not violated in the destination country.
It has been widely reported that most migrants are being deported to Rwanda, while Uganda has been mentioned as a secondary destination.
The migrants have asked the High Court to reconsider its approval of the deportations because their rights are being systematically violated in Rwanda and Uganda.
The state’s lawyer had said she was unable to answer virtually any questions other than in a closed-door hearing without the migrants’ lawyers present.
However, at one point, she let slip that there had been changes to Israel’s agreement with the destination states.
This aroused the justices’ curiosity.
Justice Neal Hendel asked, “Is there a new deal?”
The state lawyer replied, “There is an update to the deal.”
Deputy High Court President Hanan Melcer asked: “What do you mean that there is a small change? Before we were talking about voluntary deportation. Maybe now it says that it is permitted to deport them against their will – is that a small change?”
The broader debate about the migrants addresses both how and why they arrived in Israel. Even though most migrants crossed into Israel illegally from Egypt, international law requires the protection of refugees who cannot return to their country of origin for fear of prosecution.
Both the U.N. and a special Israeli court for migrant issues have ruled that Eritreans in Israel have, or at least are likely to have, a right to refugee status, since they view Eritrea as a dangerous country. Some European countries have taken the opposite position and attempted, like Israel, to justify deporting migrants, arguing that they are only seeking better economic conditions – which is not grounds for refugee status.
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