About 25,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to protest against a government plan to deport African migrants.Under the plan, the deportees – some 40,000 people mostly hailing from Sudan and Eritrea – would be expelled to third countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. The deportations were set to begin April 1, but the High Court temporarily suspended the plan amid legal wrangling.
At the protest, demonstrators hoisted signs that read: “No expulsion, no Holot [detention center] – rehabilitate the neighborhoods” – a reference to how thousands of African migrants were sent to south Tel Aviv without the state investing more resources in the area.Other protesters carried signs declaring: “We shall neither expel nor kill the stranger and refugee.”Multiple migrants addressed the rally, recounting harrowing tales of escaping from violent Sudanese militias and evading a forced labor draft in Eritrea.
Anti-Deportation protest in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv on March 24th, 2018. (Credit: Tamara Zieve)
“I want to ask of the Israeli government,” said speaker Monim Haron, “a person who escapes from forced labor under a dictatorial regime – is he not a refugee? A person who is persecuted because of his religion and ethnic origin – is he not a refugee? A person who has undergone violence, rape and torture in his own country – is he not a refugee? A person whose village was burned and family killed in front of his own eyes – is he not a refugee? A person who survived genocide – is he not a refugee? So, who is a refugee?"
People gather at an anti-deportation rally in Tel Aviv on March 24th, 2018. (Credit: Tamara Zieve)
Less than 1% of refugee asylum claims are approved by Israel, in contrast to other developed countries where between 10%-50% of applicants receive refugee status, according to the advocacy group Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.The government says many of the asylum-seekers are, in fact, labor migrants looking for work opportunities rather than fleeing from danger. Ministers also say the migrants’ numbers could undermine the delicate demography of the Jewish state.Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that without the recently completed fence with Sinai, “we would be faced with... severe attacks by Sinai terrorists, and something much worse, a flood of illegal migrants from Africa.”The rally was organized by a consortium of NGOs, Sudanese and Eritrean groups, along with the “Stop the Deportation” movement and the “South Tel Aviv against the Deportation” group.
In the meantime, the High Court has halted the deportations until it reviews a petition filed against it. The court gave the government until March 26 to respond.African migrants – who are in Israel illegally – would face the choice of an indefinite detention in jail or a cash payment of $3,500 and deportation to a third country. The government claimed that it had an agreement with the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, and that each country would receive $5000 for each migrant it accepted; both countries have denied that any such agreement exists. The deportation plan has been widely condemned by international bodies like the United Nations and Amnesty International, as well as within Israel, both in the Knesset and civil society alike. As part of the deportation plan, the open-air Holot detention center has been closed and some 280 migrants are currently in prison.Some Eritreans’ asylum requests will be reexamined, after a separate court hearing found that those fleeing indefinite military service in the Eritrean army may be eligible for refugee status.