Israel slows African migration

2012-08-24 13:02

Jerusalem — Just a few months ago, Israel was in the midst of a nationwide uproar over the tens of thousands of African migrants who have poured into the Jewish state. Today, that influx has slowed dramatically, following a series of measures meant to halt the new arrivals.

The quick results are testament to a get-tough approach that has included the rapid construction of a soon-to-be-completed fence along the border with Egypt's Sinai peninsula, and a new policy of detaining Africans upon arrival.

But the strategy has come with a price: Advocacy groups accuse Israel of violating international refugee law by co-operating with Egyptian security personnel to round up migrants on the border.

They also say more than a thousand Africans are now languishing in mass detention centres set up to hold them.

Israeli military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich said she had no immediate information on whether Israeli and Egyptian forces were co-operating in rounding up migrants. Government spokesperson Mark Regev had no comment when asked if Israel was carrying out this practice.

Israel, which contends that most of the Africans are not bona fide refugees and are merely looking for work, still has no answer for what to do with the roughly 60 000 Africans living in limbo in city slums.

No longer a sanctuary

Danny Danon, who heads a group of lawmakers pushing to expel all unauthorised migrants, credits the border fence and a new policy of long-term detention that makes it impossible for migrants to work and send money back home.

"I think Israeli society woke up, albeit too late," said Danon, a member of the governing Likud Party. "But [now] there is an understanding that while we're a Jewish state sensitive to refugees, we cannot become a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Africans who want to improve their quality of life."

The influx of Africans over the past seven years has ignited a debate over whether Israel's role as a sanctuary for Jews after the Holocaust obligates it to open its doors to others escaping misery and persecution.

But as the number of Africans has grown, some Israelis have said the country's Jewish character could be threatened by the migrants. That, and a series of crimes blamed on the Africans, has led to a harsh, sometimes violent backlash.

Migrants have been attacked in several cases and politicians have called them criminals, a "national scourge" and "a cancer in our body".

Israel is far from alone in its dilemma: European countries have sought to prevent tens of thousands of people from reaching the continent by boat from Africa and have started implementing a range of border control measures on land and on the high seas.

Negative public sentiment

Italy generally puts them into holding centres, then they are sent home if there is no case for political asylum.

In Greece, detention camps have been established similar to those built in Israel. In 2011, at least 1 500 people, including women and children, drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.

Legally, Israel cannot deport most of the migrants because the overwhelming majority — about 85% — come from Sudan, an enemy state, and Eritrea, repressive regimes with miserable human rights records.

As a signatory to an international treaty on refugees, Israel cannot forcibly return people to countries where they face persecution.

Still, the migrants' swelling numbers and public sentiment against them propelled the government to start clamping down.

In June, it began forcing out citizens of South Sudan, a state that has friendly relations with Israel, offering them cash to leave and threatening to detain them if they didn't depart.

240km fence

Most of the original total of 2 000 left, the Interior Ministry says.

The government's main effort, however, has been focused on keeping more unsanctioned migrants from entering. In June, it began enforcing a recently amended law that lets authorities detain migrants for three years and in some cases, indefinitely.

At the same time, the government is expanding its detention facilities and rushing to complete within months a 240km fence along the border with Egypt meant to keep out both Africans and Islamic militants.

It may be premature to declare a trend, but the Interior Ministry, which oversees traffic in and out of Israel, says after a long stretch when 1 000 and more migrants would enter monthly, the number fell to 268 in July and 191 for the first three weeks of August.

The expansion of the main detention centre in southern Israel allows authorities to detain migrants longer because in the past, they generally had to release them after a matter of days because of a lack of space, ministry spokesperson Sabine Haddad said.

The facility's capacity has nearly tripled to accommodate 5 400 people, and expansion is planned to hold an additional 20 000. About 1 700 migrants are currently in detention, the prisons service said. It rejected a request by The Associated Press to visit the facility.

Deterrent message

Advocates for migrants say they have been denied access to the Africans in custody and have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to lift the restrictions.

The envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, William Tall, says the conditions are acceptable for a short-term stay but deplored the legal amendment allowing long-term detention without access to formal asylum-seeking procedures.

"The law is meant to detain people and send a deterrent message: Israel is no longer a welcoming country," he said.

Tall said he said he had no indication yet from colleagues in Eritrea and Sudan whether the clampdown was having an impact. But he said word of recent attacks by Israelis on migrants and migrant homes and businesses "has clearly filtered out to African states".

Instability in Egypt's Sinai desert, where the Egyptian government has launched an offensive against Islamist militants, might also be a factor in the declining number of arrivals, he added.

Sigal Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group that helps the Africans, says the government is misleading the public into thinking the fence and detention are the main reasons the flow has slowed.

Violation of international law

According to testimony gathered by her group from three soldiers, Israeli troops are not letting migrants in and are telephoning Egyptian security personnel to pick them up, she said.

"Israeli soldiers threaten them with weapons and call the Egyptians to take them," Rozen said. "The [Israeli] politicians say it's not being done. But on the ground, soldiers are doing it."

The soldiers' testimony could not be confirmed.

But Egypt reported it apprehended more than 500 migrants in July, a sharp uptick of several hundred from the monthly average.

Denying the migrants entry to Israel and turning them over to Egyptian security violates international refugee law and Israeli law because the Egyptians are liable to return them to their countries of origin, where their lives would be in danger, Rozen said.

  • Desilusionada - 2012-08-24 13:15

    This article does not make any sense. According to every "right thinking" and "knowledgeable" person on this forum who constantly lecture on their superior knowledge of the Middle East in general and Syria/Iran in particular, Israel is the worst racist state in the whole world. They are the outcasts, because of their policies towards their neighbours. South Africa banns the Made in Israel tags if the article was made on the west bank. But the black people stream to enter the country.......

      bobo.jane.1 - 2012-08-24 13:58

      Communists and liberals (Media) alike refuse to admit the truth because they don`t want to see their illusions destroyed. I`ve been there and the lies that`s being fabricated about Israel is beyond sickening.Every person on earth has the right to life..but you can not just go and illegally immigrate to another country, procreate and expect that government to look after you and your siblings because you have human rights!

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-08-24 14:24

      Everyone always goes for the jugular of the country who has to deal with these immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers who in incredibly large numbers take massive risks to get there , once again its a no win situation thats created for them. However , no one every takes a look or even dares to criticise the countries they fleeing from and the real reasons they leaving . Policy , religion , race .... whatever , the problem is created by the oppression , war and bollucks they have to put up with in their home countries . The problem in this case is the Sudanese situation , fighting about resources which the War Lord/Dictator/'Democratic' life leader is only going to spend on more arms . It a lose for all parties except the resonsible ones .

      yvonne.styger.3 - 2012-08-24 15:51

      They use to flock to SA under apartheid, but now that the conditions in SA is as bad as the rest of Africa, they are trying to go to Israel. Makes one think

      omo.naija.750 - 2012-08-24 17:35

      yvonne.styger.3 - Who are they who used to flocked to SA under apartheid? Do you have any proof to back up this ridiculous claim.I think you have been drinking too of your cool aid.When apartheid was active ,the few Africans who migrated did so to Europe,USA,Australia for educational purposes and not SA.Stop spreading your childish lies.With the Tv reports which were being shown on African Tvs of how whites were killing blacks ,why will any sane black man want to come and live in SA which was a black man's hell at that time when were are better options.You seem to think Apartheid a good thing? Another thing your brainwashed mind does know is that most countries in Africa started to slide in the late 80s which was around the time apartheid was dying. There is enough information on the ineternet (if you are not too lazy to look) that supports the fact that Africa was buoyant in the 50s towards the late 70s before the economic hitmen(Usa's CIA & NSA,IMF,World Bank,Western Governments,Isreal's Mossad) decided to kill off true African leader and install puppet leaders who received unrequired loans and devaluated their countries currencies as instructed by their puppet masters.Please educate yourself and stop being ignorant. Israel is a racist country no doubt and these Sudanese are probably not enlightened enough to know that they migrating from fry pan to fire.The problem of African migration is a direct result of the constant meddling of the west in Africa.

      yvonne.styger.3 - 2012-08-24 18:19

      You are in total denial and its not the first time. Before 1994, there were an estimated 7 million people from Africa, illegally and legally. Many from west and East Africa, were teachers and doctors in the homelands, where conditions were better than under the military and communist dictatorships of Africa. More than 5000 pw were repatriated to Zimbabwe and Mozambique alone.Get your head out from under the sand and use it. Fact is that SA under apartheid, including blacks, had more freedom and priveleges than more than half of the world and that included Nigeria where I presume you come from. That is a political scientifically verifiable FACT- like it or not!

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-08-24 13:47

    "Uncontrollable" mass immigration is not sustainable anywhere, but the moral test of who qualifies or not should never be based on a person's religion or race, nevertheless Israel's actions is perfectly explicable in this regard, unlike its other well published self-defeating policies.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-08-24 14:21

      That is also fine but that country mustn't cry foul when it is labelled as such! Unfortunately there are defined intl standards and principles agreed upon by most countries on what is acceptable or not as far as immigration is concerned. Obviously rogue countries don't have any standards to follow!

      boom.baracus - 2012-08-24 16:35

      Fidel: 1. Denies the Holocaust. 2. Denies China invaded Tibet. 3. Admits to being a Hew-hater, in fact boasts of it. 4. Thinks Mandela is a hoax and a lackey to the West. 5. Supports Assad. 6. Calls people "rabid psychotic Jews" and follows an aggressive, islamist agenda. His statements should be understood in this light.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-24 16:46

      Fidel's actions in labeling Nelson Mandela a phony, a lackey of the West, a modern-day Uncle Tom is also perfectly explainable: he is delusional, choosing to hold highly immature anti-West reactionary beliefs. It's no surprise then that his perspective on Israel is also faulty.

      james.rossouw - 2012-08-24 17:43

      I know you relish flowery English But a "Moral" test is a moral test. Skin Colour/ Religion Based test remain just that. The Jews claim that Africans threaten their culture/way of life. Nothing to do with morals.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-08-24 19:20

      The level of discourse in this country is pathetic, especially judging by the quality of those who wish to potray themselves as educated, intelligent or rational. We all deserve the government that we have!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-08-24 19:50

      @James I am smart enough enough to realise that multicultarism is not perfect, but having your culture being threatened by a different race or religion is akin to Aryanism! People who hold views like yours James need to ask themselves what they are doing in this continent and why should Africans tolerate your Aryan kind!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-24 20:04

      James, "the Jews claim that Africans threaten their culture/way of life". Which Jews? There are an estimated 14 million Jewish people in the world. Have you spoken to them?

  • tom.poe.12 - 2012-08-24 17:59

    Here is an Idea !!! If all the African migrants convert to Judiasm then Israel has to let them in...... No...I forget, you cannot ''convert'' to Judiasm, you have to be born Jewish.....

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-24 18:23

      Wrong. Anyone can convert to Judaism.

      Sharon Gien-Cambier - 2012-08-25 09:26

      tom.poe.12 if u dont know facts, dont spew crap okay. u obviously know nothing about the Jewish religion. So shut the hell up. @ Patrick or should i say Patricia, i have read enough of your bile for weeks on end now against Israel. U are one big anti semitist and i am sick to death hearing about your ramblings on and on and on about Israel and its apartheid. You all of you should feel ashamed because its not only Israel that gets attacked, its the Jews as a nation that gets attacked for everything that goes wrong in the world. You all are no can u be with all this hatred inside of each of u?

  • raymon.mcnelly - 2012-08-24 19:35

    Wonder why their not migrating to one of th Arab nations, like Saudi or Egypt or any of those very BIG countries, with that tolerant religion of Peace! I'm sure they will welcome you guys with open arms. Forget those nasty Jews.....

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