Nearly 700 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan have launched a hunger strike in Israel's 'Holot' detention center in response to the jailing of seven Eritreans for refusing to sign a document obliging them to leave the country 'voluntarily' by the end of March.
The Israeli government is planning a mass deportation and earlier this month asked nearly 38,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to sign a document stating they are leaving the country 'voluntarily' by the end of March or will face indefinite jail time.
The Eritreans and Sudanese are being made to choose between accepting US$3,500 and a plane ticket to a third country in Africa, and being sent to prison.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the asylum seekers "infiltrators" on Facebook: "The government approved a plan today that will give every infiltrator two options: a flight ticket out or jail.
"The infiltrators have a clear choice — cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to the law."
According to +972 Magazine, asylum seekers who left Israel for Rwanda received no legal status on arrival and were forced out of the East African country after a few days.
M., who lived in south Tel Aviv and washed dishes for a living, told +975 Magazine: "They brought us to Rwanda, but we didn't get anything. We are surviving from day to day.
"After we landed at the airport, they took us to a hotel. After three days, they told me to go to Uganda. They wanted us to pay US$300 to stay at the hotel. I refused to leave, but I could not stay for longer than two weeks."
In a letter penned to Israel's Attorney Journal earlier this month, 25 international legal experts said the Interior Ministry's deportation plan violates international law.
"Detention of unlimited duration on the one hand, and expulsion on the other, are not alternatives to be selected from," they wrote, according to JPost.
"Detention of unlimited duration is aimed solely at breaking the detainee's spirit. This constitutes a violation of international law, specifically as it pertains to human rights."
Nearly 60,000 Sudanese and Eritreans crossed the border from Egypt to Israel in 2005. The influx came to a halt in 2012 when Israel erected a steel barricade along a 150-mile long stretch, according to the New York Times.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that "anyone recognized as a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and those who had requested asylum by the end of 2017 but haven't gotten a response" would be exempt from deportation for the time being.