Illegal immigrants from Africa remain on Israel''s front burner.


Minister of Interior Eli Yishai has made a high profile effort to arrest several hundred from South Sudan, and send them on free flights home, each with 1,000 Euros to get started in their old/new country. 123 have already left. Weekly flights have been scheduled for several hundred more who have signed on to voluntary repatriation, and are in detention. Yishai is promising continued action with respect to migrants from Eritrea and other countries where sending them back will be more complicated than in the case of the South Sudanese.


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Work began on a holding facility capable of containing 16,000 illegal arrivals, and providing them with food, a place to sleep, and medical care. However, a local official who did not want them in his back yard found an opportunity in the regulations that caused a temporary delay in the construction, until the national planning authority approved the project.


Daily reports are about more newcomers. Optimists have said that a dip in the numbers shows that Israel has sent a message to potential migrants that they cannot work and earn money in the country. Others are not so sure, and say that Bedouin guides are resourceful enough to find a way to continue earning what migrants are willing to pay.


There are Israelis who have vented their feelings by violence aganst Africans, their residences, and the small businesses that some of them have established. Some Israeli Jews of Ethiopian backgrounds have also suffered at the hands of toughs who do not distinguish between people with black skins.


All this is regretable, but surprising only to those who expect Jews to be free of the animosities that appear in other populations among individuals who fear competition or the encroachment on their turf of people who are different. Israel also has politicians who see opportunity in declaiming the presence of outsiders who threaten what they say the country should be.


We are hearing from those who oppose official actions. A number of Israel Prize Winners, a distinguished group of academics, artists and other prominent figures, has weighed in on behalf of the migrants'' rights, and the problems they are likely to face if sent home.


Other figures support the efforts against the migrants, but doubt that efforts currently underway--or anything else so far heard--will deal effectively with the problem.


Africa has an unlimited supply of people wanting help. Israelis who have signed on to their cause claim that authorities are not being fair. They are asking South Sudanese to sign documents saying that they are willing to return home which are written in English, which many South Sudanese do not comprehend. Authorities may also be threatening the migrants with arrest if they do not go quietly. And they may not be probing thoroughly enough the reasons for individuals claiming the rights of refugees.


I haven''t heard from any Israeli that they would like to live in South Sudan or Eritrea. The question is whether those places are so intolerable as to require Israel to provide a home for those who have made it across the Sinai?


There are quarrels about the facilities said appropriate for holding the newcomers and others taken off the streets. There is mention of incarceration for up to three years, by which time it may be possible to send them home.


There is no quarrel about providing those in the facilities with food and medical care. How much medical care might be an issue. The migrants come with a high incidence of serious diseases and other problems.


What will the migrants do in the facilities for up to three years? Keeping them busy with work or recreation will lessen the problems of the guards. Can they be given work without advocates making charges of slavery? And who will guard them? Most ideal would be personnel of the prison system, who are already trained for such work. As yet unresolved is money for this, including an increase in the budget for the prison system that would allow additional recruitment. If Israel''s history of labor relations is any guide, all prison guards will demand an increase in salary for the change in their collective responsibilities, and that is likely to hold up any resolution of who will guard the migrants. An alternative is using soldiers, but that raises the problem of appropriate training.


We are hearing reports that African-Americans are complaining about Israel''s treatment of the African immigrants, and that American Jews are nervous about the morality of Israel''s actions, and the images being broadcast of Israeli politicians speaking against Africans.


I considered giving this note the title of "Cleaning the streets," but changed my mind in light of what seems not to be politically correct. "Hot potato" may be less incendiary, but does not encompass.the multitude of complex issues ranging from administrative details to the international problems of finding places to take these people.


It is no simple task to balance the desire of people wanting to improve their lives, some of who might have serious claims of being the targets of persecution that qualifies them under international agreements about refugees, against the right of Israel like other countries to control its borders.


As in other knotty issues that surround me in this small place and help to keep me alert intellectually, I will concentrate on parsing the problems and efforts to deal with them, rather than weighing in with my own sense of morality.





 


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