Senseless acts of violence

Despite the ordeals they've endured, crime rates in the African refugee/asylum seeker population have consistently been below the national average.

May 24, 2012 17:16
2 minute read.
Rally against Africans in south Tel Aviv [file]

Rally against Africans in south Tel Aviv [file] 370 (R). (photo credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters)

Wednesday night saw the culmination of weeks of national and local incitement against the African refugee/asylum-seeker population in Israel. Hundreds of local residents and settlers from the West Bank settlements rampaged through south Tel Aviv neighborhoods attacking Africans and smashing African businesses.

A Congolese activist was thrown to the ground and beaten after leaving her house to try and talk to demonstrators. The woman, a well-known activist back home in the Congo, who had held talks before she had to flee the country with Nelson Mandela, said she “felt lucky to have escaped with her life” after being set upon by a crowd of dozens.

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Earlier in the evening at the start of the demonstration MK Miri Regev (Likud) said “the Sudanese were a cancer in our body.” And MK Danny Danon (Likud), head of the “Deportation Now” movement, called for the immediate removal of all Africans from Israel. This is the latest in a long line of incitement by our elected officials, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, MK Michael Ben- Ari (Habayit Hayehudi) and extreme settler leaders including Baruch Marzel. Human Rights groups have begun working on whether there is a case for incitement against them.

Approximately 60,000 asylum seekers have entered Israel since 2005. 80 percent of the asylum seekers are from Eritrea and 5-10% come from across Sudan. Since 2005, less than 20 have received refugee status.

Huge pressure has been placed on poor neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv and peripheral cities in the South of the country, where the communities are religious, conservative and very wary of a large foreign community suddenly living alongside them.

Without the legal right to work or access to any government services, asylum- seekers rely on the support of small NGOs and a small UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Tel Aviv.

Despite the circumstances they have gone through before their arrival – and the harsh conditions they face here in Israel – crime rates have consistently been below the national average in all years that statistics have been released (2005-2011).

Hints by the Tel Aviv police chief that those numbers have increased since the start of the year were followed by his suggestion that asylum-seekers must be given work permits, and also met by scepticism from refugee rights activists who claimed the numbers are being manipulated to help the Tel Aviv police get a larger allocation of the funds from the Finance Ministry to deal with “infiltrators.”

Politicians in Israel are doing nothing to lower the tensions in the neighborhoods worst affected, in fact they regularly come to incite the local activists. Without clear and unequivocal statements from our elected officials against these senseless acts of violence, the situation will continue to get worse. We now have to post overnight guards at our shelters for single mothers and children and are waiting with trepidation the inevitable next round of escalation that could even lead to murder.

The writer is a program manager for the African Refugee Development Center. He is an immigrant from London and a graduate of Noam UK.

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