PM's plan to pay countries to take migrants causes outrage

According to refugee aid groups, migrants would be unwilling to go back to African countries even if accepted.

By RON FRIEDMAN
October 29, 2010 02:36
3 minute read.
African Refugees

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 uncertain.

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“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 Office statement.

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 problem.”



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 voluntarily.

“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.”

The 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 media.

“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.


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