African Refugees 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel’s latest attempt to solve its growing migrant problem – by reaching out
to African countries in hopes that they, for a price, might be willing to take
in people who crossed the border illegally – was greeted Thursday with a mixture
of outrage and skepticism.
On Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister’s
Office confirmed that it was taking steps to see if there were any takers, but
the details on potential destinations and the cost of such an initiative remain
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed the relevant
government offices to search for countries that would be willing to absorb
economic migrants who entered Israel illegally.
The move is part of a
series of initiatives aimed at avoiding the flooding of Israel with infiltrators
and protecting its democratic and Jewish character,” read the Prime Minister’s
The other initiatives include passing tough
anti-infiltration legislation, and the construction of a physical barrier along
the border with Egypt.
Netanyahu’s proposal was met with dismay in the
refugee community and among migrant aid groups.
Yohanness Bayu, a refugee
from Ethiopia and director of the African Refugee Development Center in Tel
Aviv, called the decision “outrageous” and said it was “a desperate measure,
part of a series of ad hoc decisions that failed to provide a solution to the
Bayu expressed skepticism that any African countries would be
willing to accept the deported migrants, and said that even if they did, it
would be impossible to find any migrants who would agree to go
“The only reason these people are in Israel to begin with is
because they fled from their homelands in Africa. Ninety percent of the people
Netanyahu refers to as infiltrators are asylum- seekers who came here because
they were being persecuted,” said Bayu.
“The migrant community doesn’t
trust African governments to guarantee their safety, and fear that they will be
returned to the countries they escaped from and face torture, imprisonment and
death,” Bayu continued. “Most African countries can’t even ensure the safety of
their own citizens. If Israel made an agreement with Canada or a European
country that could ensure their rights, they would be willing to go.”
Hotline for Migrant Workers, meanwhile, said that “Netanyahu’s proposal is
evidence of a very short memory of history. The prime minister must learn to
distinguish between refugees or asylum seekers who fled war and dangers in their
native countries and economic migrants who only want to improve their quality of
life. A large part of the people who come from Africa to Israel through the
Egyptian border are asylum-seekers who escaped calamities in their countries. A
state that was established by refugees cannot turn its back on refugees who seek
sanctuary in its borders.”
The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s
representative in Israel, William Tall, said his organization had yet to receive
formal notification of the proposal from the government, but that he had not
been surprised when reports of the initiative surfaced in the
“This is not all that new. When I was working in Azerbaijan four
years ago, I received a call from the Israeli ambassador, who approached me with
a similar request,” said Tall.
Tall said he couldn’t comment directly on
the Israeli initiative, because he had yet to receive a formal briefing from the
Foreign Ministry. The UN representative indicated that based on experience with
refugees, finding recipient countries might prove a challenge. He said that
while Israel’s migrant problem was significant and constantly growing, with an
estimated 1,000 people crossing the border every month, it was still small
compared to many African countries.