CHILDREN OF African asylum seekers play on a Tel Aviv beach on Independence Day.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eritrean and Sudanese refugees have expressed fear and confusion after reports surfaced that the government plans to deport up to 38,000 African asylum seekers to Rwanda against their will.
Shukriyya sat quietly on a crate in an alleyway with her three children in Hatikva Quarter, one of southern Tel Aviv’s most densely populated African ghettos. The 34-year-old mother, who fled Sudan five years ago amid ongoing genocide, said she did not understand the government’s aggressive policy.
“I am not a criminal – I am a mother trying to protect her children and give them a good life,” she said Monday, as her infant daughter slept in a cloth wrapped around her waist.
Her two young sons, aged three and five, played with matchbox cars.
“I was told Israel was a country that had [humanity] and accepted people who are persecuted. I do not understand why we are being forced to go leave to live in danger again.”
Esik Nicarimos, a 32-year-old merchant who has sold fruit in the nearby Hatikva Market for the past two years, said he fled Eritrea by himself in 2012 after two family members were killed in the country’s ongoing conflict.
The notion of being deported to Rwanda, he said, terrified him.
“I have worked very hard in this country, learned its language and have followed its laws,” he said. “If I go back to Africa it will be a death sentence.”
Asim, a Sudanese father of four young children who works as a janitor, said he applied for asylum seven years ago to protect his family from deportation, but the government still has not reviewed their application.
“They call us ‘infiltrators,’ but this is not so,” he said. “We are human beings who need protection. We want to live peacefully, not be forced back.”
Noting that the government will reportedly pay Rwanda $5,000 for each person who is deported, Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees, called the development “disgraceful.”
“The State of Israel has deteriorated to the lowest level,” she said on Monday.
“It is impossible to put a price on human life and it is disgraceful that the government intends to sell refugees to Rwanda.”
According to Sadot, the government is abdicating its responsibility to maintain a humane asylum policy for survivors of torture and genocide.
“Israel has a moral, historical and international commitment and ability to maintain a genuine asylum system that will provide protection and status to asylum seekers living in its midst – including women, children and survivors of torture,” she said.
“Instead, the government chooses to abuse the refugees, treat them as criminals, deprive them of basic rights, bring them to the brink of hunger, imprison them, and sell them.”
Sadot added: “It is inconceivable that a state that initiated and pushed for the establishment of the Refugee Convention will send them today to their deaths.”