African Refugees 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On Monday evening, 150 Sudanese migrants were flown from Ben-Gurion Airport to
an undisclosed third country en route to repatriation in southern Sudan. William
Tall, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative to Israel, said that
the UN had vetted all the deportees, verifying that Israel had not coerced any
of them and that all had volunteered to return to their homeland.
applaud this move as a partial solution to an explosion of asylum-seekers,
refugees and illegal migrants, primarily from African states, whose numbers have
reached upward of 30,000 in just a few years.
Israel, which faces
numerous other challenges that endanger its Jewish majority – family
reunification of about 130,000 Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo
Accords, and the migration of about 250,000 foreign workers, not to mention a
large Arab minority and an unresolved Palestinian conflict – simply cannot be
expected to absorb all of these individuals.
Nevertheless, as a signatory
of the International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel is loyal to
the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees and
asylum-seekers to their country of origin if they might suffer persecution there
on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or political
Many of those who agreed to return to Sudan had managed to
find employment in Israel and had saved enough, together with a small stipend of
between $400 and $500 provided by Israel, to make a new start.
factor enabling their return is the approaching referendum on southern Sudan’s
independence, slated for January 9. All of the deportees, who were routed
through an unknown third country to hide the fact that they had sought refuge in
Israel, will settle in southern Sudan, with its predominantly Christian and
animist populations, as opposed to the predominantly Arab and Muslim North. A
major conflict is not expected to break out over the split, though with most of
Sudan’s oil located in the South, it is hard to believe the North with simply
let it go. Some Sudanese migrants in Israel and elsewhere are now evidently
willing to take the chance.
Many might also have been influenced by
Israel’s decision two weeks ago to prohibit employment of asylum-seekers while
their status is uncertain. This prohibition is set to go into effect after a
huge detention center is built in the Negev where the state can provide the
migrants with food, shelter and medical treatment. Until then, Israel does not
have the legal or moral right to forbid them to work.
Still, as we have
already warned, along with the barrier being built along the Egyptian border,
the government should take steps to build additional detention centers, since
the 10,000-person capacity of the one being planned is far from adequate to
handle the present migrant population, let alone the estimated 1,200 who arrive
ISRAEL IS not the only Western nation coping with an
unprecedented wave of migration from various “weak states” to countries that
offer stability and economic opportunities. New Zealand stations officials at
foreign airports to prevent improperly documented persons from reaching the
country. The UK has legislated criminal sanctions against persons who land at
its airports without documents. Austria refers asylum-seekers on its borders to
the third country from which they arrived. Italy uses marine police patrols to
prevent boats carrying Libyan asylum-seekers from reaching its shores. Australia
established in law in 2005 that a cluster of islands to the north of the country
lie outside “Australia’s migration zone.”
However, while Israel, like
other countries, has the right to decide who may and who may not enter its
borders, it also has a unique moral legacy, reborn as it was in the shadow of
Menachem Begin understood this when in 1979, as prime
minister, he called to absorb about 100 Vietnamese refugees, stating, “It is a
natural thing for us to grant asylum in our country because such is the humane
This same sentiment guided Israeli policy in 1993 when
Bosnian refugees received asylum here; in 1999 when ethnic Albanians fleeing
Kosovo were granted entry; and in 2008 when prime minister Ehud Olmert gave
temporary status to 600 Darfur refugees.
Israeli policy should continue
to be informed by this spirit, carefully balanced with fealty to our
foundational mandate as a state with a clear Jewish majority that realizes the
self-determination of the Jewish people.