Threats to deport thousands of African refugees, asylum seekers and infiltrators
are only populist talk and essentially baseless, as long as Israel is still
party to an international convention on refugee rights, nonprofit organizations
working with the migrant community contended Monday.
the Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW) and Kav L’Oved (the workers’ hotline)
responded to various comments made on Monday by politicians and officials to
address the question of what Israel should do with an estimated 50,000
foreigners, mostly from Africa, who have entered the country illegally over the
past few years.
“At the moment Israel cannot deport them, because if we
send them back to where they have come from then we are endangering lives,” said
Sigal Rozen, HMW public policy coordinator.
She pointed out: “MKs Michael
Ben-Ari [National Union], Ophir Akunis [Likud], Danny Danon [Likud] and others
spoke in the Knesset today about the need to deport everyone – but [Interior
Minister] Eli Yishai [Shas] has already deported all those who can be forced to
Rozen was referring to an emergency hearing of the
Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, which was held Monday to discuss an
alarming spurt in violent crimes in neighborhoods where there is a large
population of African migrants. Knesset members at the meeting slammed the
government’s policy on what it calls foreign “infiltrators” and demanded that a
solution be found immediately.
MKs such as Ben-Ari, Akunis and Danon said
they were already in the process of drafting legislation that would see
thousands of the migrants deported over the next few years.
the day, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, speaking at a gathering of legal
representatives in Eilat, said the government was already working to eliminate
the “scourge” from the country.
He said the fence along the Egyptian
border, which aims to stop more Africans from entering Israel, was close to
completion and that a facility in the South to house those here illegally was in
the process of being built. Neeman also indicated that the government has been
holding diplomatic talks with some African countries to find a way to return
illegal migrants, and was looking into other countries as an option for
According to Rozen, however, because Israel is party to the
1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it is highly unlikely
that thousands of people can legally be deported to countries such as Eritrea or
Sudan, where their lives might be in danger. She said that out of the 50,000
people termed by the government as “infiltrators,” at least 33,000 are from
Eritrea and a further 15,000 hail from Sudan.
“In most Western countries
that have experienced an influx of Eritreans and who have checked their status,
88 percent were recognized as refugees according to the international
convention,” said Rozen.
Israel does not check the refugee status of two
groups, she said: The Eritreans due to lack of resources and the Sudanese since
they come from an “enemy” country.
“The solution is to help them find
work here so they do not end up living in overcrowded apartments in poor
neighborhoods,” stated Rozen, referring to a specific neighborhood in south Tel
Aviv that is now densely populated with African migrants.
She added that
conditions in such neighborhoods are not only unbearable for the refugees – who
have no work, educational framework or social support – but also for the native
“I do not blame them for being angry about it,” said Rozen of
those living among thousands of Africans. “It is not that they are racist, it is
just that the current situation helps no one.”
She said that while the
government and politicians are busy blaming the Africans for the problem, it is
a clear lack of policy and programs to help these refugees that is creating
This was brought to the fore by a rash of highly publicized
rapes and other violent crimes over the past few weeks attributed to African
men. Many residents of the mixed neighborhoods have begun to express fear about
living near the migrant community and there have been several attacks against
Noa Kaufman, coordinator of refugees and asylum seekers for
Kav L’Oved, said the situation was bound to explode at some point and that many
of the migrants have little or no choice but to turn to petty crime just to
However, she pointed out that most of the migrants were
peaceful people who were just looking for a better life – with many managing to
Kaufman added that many of the foreigners were victims of
crimes themselves and that crime rates among the general population were higher
than among the Africans.
“All those who are speaking about deporting
these people have never actually spoken to them, they just are just demagogues
using the issue for political gain,” she said. “They are sadly taking advantage
of what has happened to some Israeli women in order to create a policy that will
get rid of the African population. It is purely populistic and
On Monday, opposition leader and Labor chairwoman Shelly
Yacimovich also criticized the government’s policies towards the African
community and charged Cmdr. (res.) Moshe Mizrahi, former head of the Israel
Police Investigations Branch, with proposing policies for dealing with the
Mizrahi said: “The personal safety of Israeli citizens has been
undermined, privatized and abandoned, and this must be examined irrespective to
the illegal migrants.”
“The attempt to blame illegal migrants from Sudan
and Eritrea for the rise in crime is idiotic and plays into the hands of
xenophobia and forces interested in stoking extremist nationalist sentiment,” he
Yaakov Lappin, Lahav Harkov and Jerusalem Post staff contributed
to this report.