Eritrean migrants living in Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Almost all African migrants in Israel came to the country for economic reasons and are not genuine refugees, according to the new head of a task force launched by the Interior Ministry to deal with the issue.
Arnon Soffer, a professor of geography at the University of Haifa and the National Defense College, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that “this claim that they are refugees has been put forth by a group of around 10 Israeli lawyers who make a lot of money from these unfortunate people, making claims before the courts that they are refugees.”
He added that while in his estimation there were initially some legitimate refugees from Darfur who came to Israel, “all the rest are people who came here to work, just like others like them went to Europe. And what will they say to you, that they came here to work? No, they’ll say they fled their country and it’s up to you to decide what to believe.”
Soffer said that even if there are reports of fighting or bloodshed in South Sudan, geographically Sudan and South Sudan together “are the size of Europe. So if someone fires a gun somewhere in Sudan all of the country is in a war? What, we’ve never had rockets on Haifa and Sderot and this made all of Israel not a great place, what is this nonsense?” Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced the formation of the task force last week, saying that it would have two main goals: stopping further illegal migration to Israel and finding ways to deport those currently residing in the country illegally.
Yishai added that he has given the team two months to come up with recommendations, which he will present to an emergency cabinet meeting to be held specifically to hear the findings.
Whatever the team’s findings, Soffer was clear on Sunday that he sees the issue as one that demands serious, concrete solutions, lest Israel be swept under by a wave of illegal immigration from the Third World, which he believes will only increase as climate change causes further desertification and worsening quality of life in Africa and elsewhere.
“The problem we’re dealing with today is only at its beginning, part of developments happening due to global climate changes and therefore if we don’t prepare for it, these waves that will continue to come can trample over our country,” Soffer said.
Soffer also gave the estimation that there are around 700,000 foreigners living in Israel today, about 10 percent of the country’s population.
Soffer said the population includes about 60,000 African foreign workers, 300,000 Palestinians who have relocated to within the Green Line, 100,000 tourists living illegally in the country and between 100,000-200,000 non-African foreign workers.
The professor said he doesn’t want to involve himself with the issue of who is to blame, saying it’s a matter for the media to discuss, and that his concern is working to ensure Israel “remains a Jewish, democratic country.”
While he praised the fence under construction on the Israel-Egypt fence, saying it is exactly what is needed to stop the influx from Sinai, he said that once that avenue is closed migrants will try other ways, either by way of Jordan or from the Red Sea.
“It’s a war that never ends. People whose lives are rough will always try to improve them by any way possible.”