False humanitarianism

Welcoming everyone - refugee or otherwise - exhausts Israel's capacity to absorb those in real need.

darfur child 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
darfur child 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In the first two weeks of February alone - according to official statistics - at least 1,000 illegal refugees from Africa came across the Egyptian border. This is the most conservative estimate. The real number may be as high as 1,500. It's hard to gauge precisely how many migrants managed to cross, for the simple reason that not all have been apprehended. But it is safe to predict that numbers will continue to rise as word reaches the migrants' countries of origin about the perks awaiting them in what has veritably become the promised land. Meir Sheetrit's Interior Ministry now proposes awarding many of the illegals work permits and "absorption baskets." The practical immediate upshot will be paying NIS 2,000 to each illegal on condition that he restricts his presence to areas south of Gedera or north of Hadera. This is an unabashed attempt to take the load off residents of Tel Aviv, who over a very short period have found themselves involuntarily hosting many thousands of new arrivals, driven up from the temporary Ketziot holding camp and dumped in the center of the city. About 1,000 already crowd local municipal asylums. Others make their homes in the streets and shopping centers. Some are involved in crime. The Tel Aviv Municipality has avidly cheered the Interior Ministry initiative and even offered to shell out the NIS 2,000 up front, on condition that the Treasury guarantees to reimburse it. The idea is to get unwanted gatecrashers out of the city as quickly as possible. Simultaneously Deputy Mayor Yael Dayan rails against the lack of governmental financial compassion toward those she labels refugees. This is where the travesty begins. To date, there are in Israel only 600 bona fide refugees from the killing fields of Sudan's Darfur. The rest are economic migrants, like the millions who have arrived on the shores of Europe. Israel must do its share, along with other nations, to aid those who are fleeing genocide and incontrovertible existential danger. Those who genuinely fear for their lives should they return to their home countries deserve our empathy and our help. But the vast majority of the tens of thousands who have infiltrated Israel in the past few years have no connection to Darfur. Not even all arrivals from Sudan are escaping war and persecution there. Some may even come from among the very oppressors whom true refugees are fleeing. Also among those seeking a better life here are migrants from Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and even Egypt. Israel, other countries and international agencies have developed screening processes for determining who is a real refugee. These procedures should be applied as quickly, efficiently and humanely as possible. Refugees should be assisted in building a new life here; those who are not refugees should be quickly deported. While welcoming everyone - refugee or otherwise - might seem to be the humanitarian approach, it is not. It simply creates false and unsustainable hopes and exhausts Israel's capacity to absorb those genuinely in need of refuge here. Israel is fast becoming a new magnet for people from developing countries wishing to improve their living standards. Treating economic migrants as if they were akin to olim is precisely the reverse of what is prescribed. Sheetrit's caprice is sure to boomerang. To add to the economic strain, there are also security dangers regarding unchecked entry from Egypt, and even demographic concerns. Shmuel Rifman, head of Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, warns that "things are much worse than meets the eye. The IDF isn't present all along the border with Egypt, and its reports account only for a fragment of the whole picture." Rifman believes the illegal migrant influx will emerge as "the next decade's No. 1 social problem" for Israel. "There are 250,000 Africans already amassing in Egypt and preparing to steal across," he says. "The true refugees are a handful lost in the deluge, and the danger from the rest is far greater than that of terrorists mixing among them." Israel's location and its indisputable economic success make it immensely attractive for large numbers of potential illegal migrants. And yet, says Rifman, "besides talking, the government does nothing, hoping this problem, too, will go away. It won't."