200 African migrants detained in TA raid

The new crackdown follows the prime minister's directive to stem the flow of refugees.

Sudanese 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sudanese 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israeli and Egyptian authorities initiated a crackdown on African refugees Monday, in the wake of a directive by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stem the flow of refugees arriving in Israel. Immigration police raided the area surrounding the Tel Aviv central bus station Monday, combing through shelters and rounding up more than 200 refugees. Meanwhile, Egyptian border police shot and wounded a Sudanese and a man from Ivory Coast in two separate incidents as they tried to illegally cross into Israel, a security official and medics said. There have been at least three other incidents in which refugees have been killed trying to enter Israel. "Wake up. We cannot continue this way," was the statement made by Olmert earlier this week as he called for Israeli and Egyptian authorities to work harder to stop refugees from crossing the porous border between the two countries. Interior Ministry officials, acting on Olmert's orders, screened the 200-some refugees that were brought to the police station in Holon, interviewing them and examining their work papers. "This was a planned operation put into place following a decision by the prime minister that illegal immigration had to be stopped. So far, we have 240 people in custody," Immigration Police spokeswoman Orit Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. "Foreign workers were asked to show documentation to prove that they're here legally. Those who could not do so were taken to the immigration facility, where they will undergo a hearing before Interior Ministry officials. Their status will then be determined," Friedman said. Most of the refugees that were detained Monday were from Eritrea, Sudan, and the Ivory Coast. According to organizations that work with the refugees, most had work permits, and were confused and frightened after being forced onto buses and transferred to Holon. "There was a mass panic, with people running out of shelters and hiding... because they thought they were being sent back to jail, or worse, back to Egypt," said Daniel, an Ethiopian immigrant who arrived in Israel years ago and runs a shelter for African refugees. "It reminded me of scenes of the Gestapo. I would never imagine a thing like this happening in a Jewish state." Nearly 7,000 refugees have arrived in Israel over the past several years, according to figures gathered by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The government has devised a complex system to establish status for the various groups of refugees, giving full asylum to some 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan, and granting work permits to other groups, such as Eritrean refugees who entered Israel no later than December 25, 2007. The system has confused many of the refugees, who are afraid that if they are deported to Egypt, or to their countries of origin, they will be persecuted for their attempts to flee. "The worst thing that can happen is to be sent back to Egypt. That would be like death," said Swam, a 26-year-old Sudanese refugee whose husband was among those detained Monday. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that the government begin the process of deporting refugees back to Egypt as soon as they are caught in Israel. One group of thirty-five refugees was deported to Egypt in the fall of 2007. As revealed in the Post, five of those refugees were deported by Egyptian authorities to Sudan, and incarcerated for visiting Israel, which the Sudanese government labels an "enemy country." The deportation and imprisonment of those five refugees has been used by human rights groups seeking legal means of blocking the Israeli government from proceeding with their plan to deport refugees. Last week, the government began a program, labeled the "Gedera-Hadera Plan" because it will relocate refugees who have been granted work permits to periphery communities north of Gedera and south of Hadera. The plan was announced by the head of the Interior Ministry's Population Administration, Ya'acov Ganot, during a meeting with various refugee rights organizations. Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.