The Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday handed out a sentence of four years in prison and 18 months probation for a Sudanese refugee convicted of snatching a cell phone from a woman walking down a Tel Aviv street in March.

The court issued a statement Tuesday saying that the unusually stiff sentence was meant “to protect the public and fight the phenomenon of robbery carried out by refugees who must respect the laws of the country they decided to enter illegally.”

The verdict includes a description of the crime, during which the victim reportedly chased after the man after he snatched her phone.

She allegedly managed to grab his shirt, at which point he pushed her to the ground. According to the verdict, the woman then continued to chase the man who fell and dropped the phone, which he tried to steal back from the woman before bystanders subdued him.

The verdict adds that the refugee’s lawyer presented pleas for leniency drawing on his client’s experience as a refugee and saying that he was not allowed to work in Israel. The court answered that the defense was not accepted, because “[refugees] decide to come to Israel by choice, and are not forced to do so.”

The court also ruled that the defense was inadequate because asylum seekers “first make their way to Egypt and only after they see the quality of life is not suitable for them and does not suit their needs they decide to come to Israel.”

In regard to whether or not the sentencing could be seen as racist or discriminatory, the court wrote that as it “has discovered what is a menace to the country, which is particular to a certain segment of the population, it is the court’s responsibility to defend the public from it, and any claim that this is discrimination or racism must be dismissed outright.”

This is not the first time an asylum seeker has been given a severe sentence as an act of deterrence to all African migrants. In May, the Tel Aviv District Court handed down a sentence of four-and- a-half years in prison and 18 months suspended sentence to an Eritrean man convicted of stealing a woman’s purse in Tel Aviv. The court said the sentence was meant as deterrence to other migrants.

According to research the Knesset Interior Committee compiled, the crime rate among foreigners in Israel is lower than that of the general public.

In a paper released in late May, the committee said, “from 2011- 2012 there has been an increase in the number of crimes committed by foreigners in Israel but the percentage of crime among them is still lower than that among the general population.”

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