Olmert: Infiltrators must be stopped

PM calls phenomenon a "tsunami" likely to get bigger; Dichter: Give IDF greater authorization.

sudanese refugees 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sudanese refugees 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Africans caught trying to enter Israel illegally will be deported to Egypt on the spot, according to a directive issued to security forces by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday. There are more than 7,000 African asylum-seekers in Israel, of whom at least 2,400 arrived in the past three months. The phenomenon has recently accelerated, with more than 800 Africans arriving each week, according to security officials. The government has discussed possible solutions for the refugees - such as allowing several thousand to stay and deporting the rest to a safe African country - but has yet to announce a cohesive plan. "The security forces are still not doing enough to prevent the entrance of infiltrators, and the Foreign Ministry has not examined all the options with African states," Olmert said. "The situation is not ideal. This is a tsunami that can grow and we need to take every measure to stop it." Security officials should "prevent the refugee infiltrations, even if the matter requires the use of force," he said. Though the IDF was given a mandate to deport refuge-seekers in August, that policy has not been implemented. Human rights organizations who work with the Africans said the decision to deport them to Egypt was "catastrophic" and could place their lives in danger. It is also unclear whether Egypt would recognize Israel's right to deport the refugees. Olmert has assembled a legal team to examine the laws on deportation, and a number of human rights organizations in Israel and Egypt plan to challenge the legality on the basis of international refugee law. In October, Israel deported 48 African refugees to Egypt. At least five were subsequently deported to Sudan, where their fate remains unknown. Israel is a signatory to several treaties on refugees that prohibit deporting any person into a situation of mortal danger. Human rights organizations plan to use those treaties to argue that Israel has a legal, as well as moral, obligation to find an alternative solution for the refugees. A number of countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya, have been proposed as alternative locations for the refuge-seekers. But the governments of those countries have not yet agreed to absorb the potential hundreds of thousands that some predict will enter Israel in the coming years. In the meantime, most of Israel's refugees live in bomb shelters and low-income housing developments near the Tel Aviv central bus station. In many cases, 10 people share a small room, taking turns sleeping in the beds. Last week, a medical clinic in the area that treated hundreds of foreign workers daily was shut down. Though that clinic is expected to reopen later this week, the Refugee Rights Association said that the situation was becoming "dire" for many of the refugees. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has suggested expanding facilities at Ketziot Prison near the Sinai border to temporarily hold the refugees until the state agrees to a cohesive, long-term plan. Thousands of refugees have been held there over the past three years. "We have to find other countries and send [the refugees] there," Dichter said, adding that building a fence along the Egyptian border would end the infiltrations and would also aid in efforts to halt drug and weapons smuggling as well as human trafficking. Egyptian security forces have recently taken a more aggressive stance toward the refugees, killing four in the past 12 days.