When I hear our leaders talking about building a border fence and a detention camp to keep the African refugees out, of preventing the ones here from working to deter new ones from coming, I remember watching CNN on September 11, 2001.
It was about an hour after the planes struck the World Trade Center, and CNN had its first New York City official in the studio, some deputy mayor. The anchorman asked him something like, “So what’s the plan?” and the deputy mayor was ready. He described eagerly how the city had been carrying out regular disaster drills, and how all the different departments and emergency teams were well-prepared to work together as a team.
“What we have now is coordinated leadership,” the deputy mayor asserted.
Meanwhile, the monitor is showing the Twin Towers in smoking ruins. It looks like doomsday out there and this bureaucrat is talking about coordinated leadership.
Here and now, the situation is that more than 1,000 African refugees are coming over the Egyptian-Israeli border every month, nearly double the rate of last year. At first it was only Sudanese, now it’s mainly Eritreans.
In summer 2006 there were fewer than 200 African refugees here; now there are over 30,000.
Where does it stop? Where’s the limit? Why should any poor, oppressed, endangered African who can get to Israel not want to try? But don’t worry, we’re on top of it – we’ve started building a border fence that should be ready in two or three years, and a detention camp that will hold nearly 10,000 of these “infiltrators”! The party’s over, folks.
Is that so? The government thinks that if it makes life in Israel less attractive, the Africans won’t be in such a hurry to come. Here’s what Sigal Rozen of the Hot Line for Migrant Workers said: “This country doesn’t understand the kind of abuse it will have to dish out for the Eritreans and Sudanese to decide it’s better to stay where they are.”
I think she makes sense.
And that’s without even mentioning the waking nightmare that awaits many of these people on the trek through Sinai to the border. Yediot Aharonot’s Anat Fishbein interviewed some of the African women being held at the Sahronim facility in the Negev – they commonly get raped repeatedly by their Beduin guides; they and the men traveling with them get tortured, beaten, starved, sometimes killed.
They pay from $300 to $3,000 each to the Beduin guides, then the guides make them call their families to ask for more money, torturing them so they’ll scream over the phone to get the point across.
If they survive their Beduin guides, the refugees also have to dodge the Egyptian border guards who’ve killed or brutally imprisoned untold numbers of them.
It’s been five years since over 30,000 African refugees began journeying to Israel, and the Sinai is marked with the skeletons of those who didn’t make it.
Many who did are utterly traumatized by what they endured.
Yet these Africans still keep coming in greater and greater numbers. If and when they get thrown into Israel’s vaunted detention camp, they’ll kiss the ground.
WHAT ARE we going to do? I don’t want to sound like I know better than the government because I don’t – in fact, on the question of whether huge, untenable numbers of Africans would one day be showing up at the border, bad old Eli Yishai was right and I was wrong. I didn’t want to believe it was possible; I didn’t want to see these people as a threat because they really are the wretched of the earth.
And the ones already here are not so many as to constitute a threat, and they should be treated decently. But they signal the potential masses who could arrive at our doorstep, and as innocent as those people are, they do constitute a threat, a very severe one, and they must be prevented from entering this country.
We have to set a quota – 100, 200 a month, let’s say, and send the rest away from the border – “hot return,” as the IDF calls it. This means sending them back to Sinai, which means sending them back to the Egyptian border guards or Beduin guides, which is a sentence of death or torture in prison.
I would hope that some entity would clean up the situation in Sinai, but that’s just a hope – the fact is that by refusing entry to African refugees, we are leaving them in hell. But setting a realistic quota at the border and enforcing it is the only way I can think of to deter tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Africans from coming here to live.
Do such numbers sound unimaginable? Four years ago, hundreds a month was unimaginable, let alone 1,000.
Meanwhile, we have to cool the xenophobic hysteria. These people are not your classic “infiltrators,” as they’re officially called – not only don’t they hide from the law once they cross into this country, they wait eagerly for IDF soldiers to pick them up. Not one of them has been linked to terrorism or any kind of national security offense.
Neither have they spread plague, AIDS, cholera or any other epidemic that the demagogues warned about.
They’re not a criminal community, either; Channel 2 reported that only 1
percent have police files opened against them, compared to 6 percent of
A Tel Aviv police official told me that crime has in fact gone down on
the southside of the city, where the refugees are concentrated.
These people have endured lives that Israelis can’t imagine. In terms of
suffering and persecution, many of them can definitely be equated with
Holocaust survivors. So let’s try not to be cruel to them, because we’re
going to have to be very, very cruel to a whole lot of refugees who
come after them.
Africa is a big continent and Israel is a small country. We have to help, but there has to be a limit, too.