Forced deportation? We shall see

Israel had the right to build a fence along its Egyptian border.

African migrants wait in line for the Population and Immigration Authority office to open in Bnei Brak. (photo credit: REUTERS)
African migrants wait in line for the Population and Immigration Authority office to open in Bnei Brak.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Let me make this perfectly clear: Israel is a sovereign state with the undeniable right to defend its borders and control the entry of immigrants. Therefore, Israel had the right to build a fence along its Egyptian border. Completed in December 2012, the fence stopped the massive inflow of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers coming into Israel between 2007 and 2012. So far so good.
However, the government proclaimed that the mighty fence was not sufficient. Israel also needed to apply harsh policies to those already here, to discourage hundreds of thousands of African economic migrants from flocking to Israel. By the end of 2017, there were virtually no Africans, or anybody else, entering Israel through the Sinai. The number of African asylum seekers in the country, which had soared over 60,000 in 2012, dwindled to less than 40,000.
Here, the narrative becomes a bit bizarre.
Although Israel had firm control of its land, sea and air entry points, government officials warned that lenient policies would attract African migrants who would find ingenious ways to enter the country.
Somehow, they would be more clever, resourceful and successful in infiltrating our borders than Hamas with its multi-million-dollar tunnels. Desperate African migrants might even disguise themselves as Ukrainians or Georgians and get tourist visas to enter Israel by plane.
One of the major proofs that African asylum seekers in Israel are economic migrants and not refugees, which has become a mantra of government officials and those defending pro-deportation policies, rests on the following syllogism: a) most African economic migrants to Europe are single males in their early 20s and 30s; b) most Eritrean and Sudanese African asylum seekers also come from the same age group; and c) therefore, most of them are also economic migrants. Sounds logical.
But what if we said: a) monkeys are featherless bipeds, b) human beings are featherless bipeds, so therefore c) human beings are monkeys. Would you believe that you are indeed a monkey?
Age is not the primary test of one’s status as economic migrant or refugee. The conditions in their home countries, and their reasons for leaving are the primary tests determining status.
Economic migrants primarily leave their homes to seek better economic opportunities elsewhere. Refugees flee to escape discrimination, persecution and oppression, to seek freedom and protection elsewhere.
Surely, we must believe our prime minister when he insists that Israel has no, or almost no, refugees. Has he ever lied to us? Why would real African refugees bother to come to Israel, a nation of Jewish refugees, when they could go to Canada?
The conflict in Darfur happened a long time ago. We accepted a few hundred Darfurians a decade ago and almost treated them like refugees. Then came thousands more who were clearly economic migrants because they wanted to work rather than starve to death or steal.
As to the Eritreans, in addition to being economic migrants, they were deserters and draft-dodgers. Unwilling to serve their totalitarian dictator for an unlimited periods in return for sub-subsistence allowances, and unwilling to undergo torture and imprisonment for complaining about their conditions, they heartlessly abandoned their country to come to Israel.
While it is true that Sudan has been under a radical Islamist regime since 1989, pursuing ethnic cleansing policies against Christians and non-Arab Muslims on a regular basis, our government does not consider that to be a terribly important criterion in determining refugee status.
The fact that Eritrea has the most totalitarian regime in Africa with no free elections, no free press and no courts of law to uphold human rights is of no concern to our government, thanks to our rigorous adhesion to non-intervention in the affairs of other nations. Besides, why should we coddle draft dodgers unwilling to accepting voluntary servitude?
Our prime minister always keeps his word. He has promised to start deporting so-called asylum seekers on April 1. His government has already started to send Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Saharonim Prison for committing the non-crime of refusing to accept forced deportation to unnamed African countries.
As a reflection of its consistently humane policies, the government is closing down the Holot detention facility and releasing the remaining few hundred inmates with a temporary visa permit to go their merry way without money, a place to go, or opportunity to work.
To encourage them to visit other parts of Israel that they may not have yet seen, the government has banned them from going to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.
To ensure that the asylum seekers have a full vacation, enforcement actions will be taken against employers daring to employ them. To rid our country of unwanted non-Jewish Africans claiming to be refugees, Israel is determined to carry out its humane, non-violent, ethnic cleansing deportation campaign.
What will the prime minister and our government do when they discover that no African country will openly accept those sent to their countries against their will, or that our prisons are not large enough to hold all those African asylum seekers preferring prison to forced deportation?
What will happen when Israelis discover that the prime minister does not always tell the truth? That most African asylum seekers are in fact decent people who believed that Israel would offer them freedom and protection? What will happen when large numbers of Israelis, perhaps even a majority, remembers that Jews don’t deport refugees and act accordingly? We shall soon see.
The author is a Jerusalem-based international development consultant specializing in democracy and development issues in Africa.