Knesset plenum rejects committee of inquiry on African deportations

Government plans on expediting deportations * Eritrean leader says Israel should pay refugees $50,000 each to leave

An African migrant wears a T-shirt with a Hebrew phrase referring to the Holocaust," I promise to remember... and never forget!" in south Tel Aviv July 17, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An African migrant wears a T-shirt with a Hebrew phrase referring to the Holocaust," I promise to remember... and never forget!" in south Tel Aviv July 17, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an apparent blow to the anti-deportation movement, the Knesset plenum on Wednesday rejected MK Michal Rozin’s (Meretz) proposal to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the policy of deporting asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea.
Rozin said the committee was intended to investigate any secret deportation agreements the government has with a third country, the policy of not examining the asylum requests of Eritreans and Sudanese nationals and the rehabilitation of south Tel Aviv.
There are presently approximately 38,000 African refugees seeking asylum in Israel, the vast majority of whom live in impoverished south Tel Aviv ghettos.
According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, since 2013 the Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority has only reviewed 6,500 of the 15,000 asylum applications submitted, and approved 11.
In response to Wednesday’s plenum decision, Rozin, the former chairwoman of the Special Committee for Foreign Workers, said the Interior Ministry continues to flagrantly ignore its obligations as a signee of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.
“The government ignores all the international treaties to which it is a signatory and continues to lie to the public,” she said.
“For years, there has been a national failure in the government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. It’s time to smash the lies and reveal the ugly truth: The government is making a political, racist and populist turn on the backs of the asylum seekers.”
Rozin continued: “We need to convey a clear message to the government: Not in our name! We must stop this government from doing one of the worst things it can do – to deport refugees and asylum seekers to the unknown.”
Wednesday’s development followed a heated Monday debate at the Knesset’s Interior Committee during which Committee Chairman Yoav Kish (Likud) traded barbs with Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who accused Likud members of Nazism.
“It’s time to expose the true face of the Likud,” said Zandberg. “Yoav Kish’s demagoguery crossed all the red lines, and I said again and again that the ties of the ruling party with Nazi parties in Europe are shameful for the State of Israel and bring shame on the Israeli government.”
Kish responded that the growing pro-refugee movement’s comparison of African asylum seekers to Jews during World War II is patently false.
“I condemn and hold in contempt the false use of the term ‘Holocaust,’” said Kish, adding that those who compare the pending April deportations to Holocaust survivors have a “false sense of moral superiority and purity to preach to us about Jewish morality.”
Kish continued: “We make a complete distinction between those whom we think are refugees and migrant workers – and the Supreme Court has made a clear distinction between them.”
Despite mounting campaigns by the growing anti-deportation movement – including numerous human rights NGOs; Israeli CEOs, El Al pilots; Holocaust survivors; and North American Jewish leaders – the government continues to expedite its deportation campaign.
Indeed, according to multiple reports, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority intends to double the rate of African deportations beginning in April to 600 per month, and roughly 7,200 a year.
Moreover, on Sunday the Population and Immigration Authority announced that it will pay 100 volunteer civilian “inspectors” NIS 30,000 bonuses each to deport African refugees to an unspecified third country.
According to the Authority, beginning in March – one month before a mass expulsion is planned – the inspectors will exclusively work for two years to identify and expel what the government has deemed “illegal infiltrators.”
While details of the initiative remain unclear, the Authority said the inspectors would receive an unspecified salary plus a NIS 20,000 bonus after one year, and NIS 30,000 after two years.
On Sunday, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Population and Immigration Authority, said only single, working-aged males will be deported, while husbands, women and children will be spared, Makor Rishon reported.
Last week, Rwanda’s Ambassador, Olivier Nduhungirehe, issued a strongly-worded denial on Twitter about ongoing reports that his government has made a secret deal with Israel to accept forcefully deported refugees at $5,000 per person.
“Let me be clear: Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will,” he wrote. “Our open-door policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint. Any manipulation of women, men & children in distress is appalling.”
Meanwhile, Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, on Wednesday took Israel’s government to task for only offering Eritrean and Sudanese refugees $3,500 to voluntarily leave the country.
In an interview posted on his government’s website, Afwerki said the asylum-seekers should be offered $50,000 each due to the dangers they face and amount they paid human traffickers to get to Israel.