It was only a matter of time

The UNHRC is ignoring plight of 2,000 Africans that enter Israel each month.

South Sudanese kids protest outside UNHCR office 390 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
South Sudanese kids protest outside UNHCR office 390
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of reports of brutal rapes committed by self-identified African refugees in Tel Aviv. The news shocked Israelis, but the sad truth is that it was only a matter of time.
It's not that the approximately 50,000 Africans claiming refugee status in Israel are more likely to commit violent crime than anyone else. In fact, for the majority of the past five years or so that Sudanese and Eritreans have been illegally entering Israel via Egypt, crime levels coming from the community have been low, and mostly limited to theft and other petty crime.
But gather a destitute, jobless, and seemingly hopeless population in the middle of a bustling city and what you have is a recipe for disaster. And disaster is precisely what we've created in Neveh Sha'anan, the once working-class South Tel Aviv neighborhood that's been overrun by the migrant populations.
The recent spate of violent crime raises two questions critical questions. The first is why are 2,000 Africans continuing to enter Israel each month? The second is why are the these populations not being cared for by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-- the global body charged with addressing the needs of refugees and, ultimately, repatriating them.
The first question falls squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It's no longer a question for Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has proven himself to be, at best, a hapless observer of the situation. Nor is it a question for the Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, whose responsibilities are unclear at best. Nor is it for the military, NGOs, or the police. So here it is: Mr. Prime Minister, why is the Israeli public being subjected to this level of risk, which is now a manifest danger? Why has something not been done about it?
As to the UNHCR, why does the organization not tend to these people the way it tends to every other refugee population in the world? The likely answer is that it's because they are not refugees. Eritrea is no longer at war with Ethiopia. It has been independent for 21 years. Its economy has shown signs of growth. Human rights groups argue that the government is repressive and that quality of life is extremely poor, but neither of these qualifications meet the international standard for granting refugee status.
The South Sudanese, who form the other part of Israel's "refugee" population, now have a state of their own. It's no paradise, but it is self-governed. There are still serious problems internally and with neighboring Sudan, but an array of international agencies, including the World Bank and the UN, are present on the ground. And, nonetheless, neither border conflicts nor potential food shortages makes for a refugee situation.
If this analysis is wrong, and they are refugees, these populations have the right to be cared for and repatriated by the international agency whose sole mission is to do just this. But if they are not refugees they do not have a right to simply enter another country -- and stay there -- at will.
In either case, Israel has no right to keep them here. What we do have is an obligation to our own citizens, to enforce laws that are designed to protect the population. This does not mean we should forgo sympathy and forget or ignore the plight of these people. But providing agricultural aid, education, and healthcare to Eritrea and South Sudan -- tasks that are within Israel’s means-- will go a lot farther than simply allowing 50,000 people to sit in a neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. 
The writer is an author, journalist and communications consultant who lives in Tel Aviv.