Share & Connect
Israel has begun an “emergency plan” to battle its illegal immigration problems that will involve interning and deporting thousands. So far authorities have arrested sixty-two African migrants in on-going raids. Most of the migrants are from South Sudan, with some from the Darfur region. The government hopes to repatriate 60,000 African refugees. The immigrants are being detained at the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
After two months of heated debate, the Israeli government has declared that the African migrants have become a threat to the Jewish character of the state and that they are here illegally. Many illegal immigrants have also caused problems with labor and work, similar to those in the United States.
The main area being targeted for removing these African refugees is in the poor area to the south of Tel Aviv. Israelis living in the south of Tel Aviv claim that the wealthy northern residents of Tel Aviv can afford to be liberal and support the plight of the African refugee because their jobs are not being threatened by these Africans.
The decision has also arisen after a wave of hostility has arisen against blacks in general. A recent opinion poll in Israel showed that fifty-two percent of Israelis think that Africans are a “cancer” according to the Times of Israel. According to Jacob Berri, a Sudanese refugee at a protest, the refugees are “being called a cancer and an AIDS virus on the Israeli people, by politicians.” Berri claims that many in the South Sudanese community recognize they are not wanted and will leave as long as they are guaranteed refugee status and are helped by the UN.
African migrants marched on Sunday to the UN Refugee Agency offices in Tel Aviv to protest the mistreatment of refugees. Several protests have occurred due to these decisions including one with five hundred Sudanese men. These men chanted “we are refugees, not criminals” due to allegations that Africans are preying on Israeli citizens and raping Israeli women.
The rhetoric used against these immigrants suggests some personal bias. Interior Minister Eli Yishai stated, “this is only a small group of infiltrators…I’m not acting out of hatred of strangers but love of my people and to rescue my homeland.” According to Reuters, “infiltrators” is the the same word often used to describe Palestinian militants.
Many Israelis are worried that the deportations could damage Israel’s international image; in previous years, Israel was considered a champion of human rights and protector of these African refugees. Israeli human rights and activist groups are on the side of the African refugees, whereas the right wing and certain religious parties are against them.
Some of these refugees have lived in Israel for years – some of their children only know of Israel as home and only speak Hebrew – but these individuals have lived in legal limbo for too long.
An Israeli court upheld the government’s decision of internment and deportation of all migrants of South Sudanese origin. The government and courts agree that although South Sudan is still at war with Sudan, the region is safe enough for the refugees to return. The government has also claimed that all of the immigrants are in Israel looking for work when many are there to escape persecution and violence. Israeli activists have urged the government to consider each case individually rather than indiscriminately sending people back.
The Israeli government has offered financial incentives to all of those who leave voluntarily. Since many refugees recognize that their deportations are inevitable, they have begun registering to leave. The Interior Minister Eli Yishai has claimed, “whoever comes forward will get his grant…from the moment you come to immigration authorities and say you will pack up, from that moment you will be given an opportunity to pack up, and the grant of 1,000 euros.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is completely behind the new immigration policy, although he has urged Israelis to not harm the African refugees. Netanyahu claimed, “we are a moral people and we will act accordingly. We denounce violence; we denounce invective. We respect human rights…[but] Israel cannot accept infiltrators from an entire continent.”
According to Reuters, migration into Israel from Africa has been increasing since 2006, but the past year has seen an incredible increase in the number of refugees. The revolution in Egypt has prevented the Egyptian government from policing the border of the Sinai peninsula which has allowed the Bedouin people-smugglers to increase their operations.
In response to these high levels of immigration, Israel has built a high fence along its border to Egypt. Netanyahu said in a May 29th speech, “my policy with regard to the illegal infiltrators seeking work is clear… first of all, to stop their entry with the fence and at the same time to deport the infiltrators who are in Israel.” Netanyahu also claimed that in transition the African refugees would be held in “detention facilities with thousands of units.” The prime minister justified his actions by claiming that these migrants are threatening “the character of the country.”