Since Israel had no formal mechanisms for receiving non-Jewish refugees, African seekers crossed the Sinai desert from Egypt and entered Israel illegally.
It looks like our government is very eager to treat the 40,000 African asylum seekers left in Israel as human toxic waste to be dumped in African countries led by rulers willing to be paid off to accept them.
Since the 1980s, Africa has become Europe’s prime dumping ground to get rid of toxic waste hazardous to health and the environment in their own countries. Europe has been sending toxic waste from landfills, radioactive materials and more recently e-waste in the form of discarded computers and cell phones to Africa.
For the past five years, our government has denied that African asylum seekers seeking protection in Israel from 2006-2012 are really refugees.
More than 90% percent came from Sudan and Eritrea, two of the most brutal and repressive regimes in Africa.
Since Israel had no formal mechanisms for receiving non-Jewish refugees, African seekers crossed the Sinai desert from Egypt and entered Israel illegally. Most were jailed for months like criminals and labeled “illegal infiltrators.”
Asylum seekers in Israel are not criminals. They are more like Israelis racing through a red light on the way to the hospital to save a human life than infiltrators clandestinely sneaking into a country to do harm to the people there. They should not be imprisoned or put in detention camps for not being willing to leave Israel to go to unnamed or named African countries like Rwanda and Uganda where they have no guarantees for protection and freedom.
Our government has justified its anti-refugee policies and efforts to deport African asylum seekers using a combination of lies, misinformation and incitement.
The first lie is that all but a few are economic migrants. Israel has many economic migrants that include Thai agricultural workers, Filipino caregivers, and Chinese and Eastern European construction workers. They did not come here because they needed to flee war and persecution.
Although many Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have found employment in Israel, they did not come here primarily for economic reasons.
Sudanese from Darfur, South Kardofan, and the Blue Nile regions of Sudan suffered from ethnic cleansing campaigns that drove them from their homes. Eritreans still dwell in a totalitarian state that forces its people into a system of indefinite involuntary servitude like that endured by the Children of Israel in Egypt under the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.
The big lie that nearly all African asylum seekers in Israel are economic migrants is sustained by the failure of the government to process applications for refugee status in a fair and timely manner to determine whether they meet the criteria for refugee recognition. Asylum seekers are assumed guilty of being illegal economic migrants, which would make forced deportation legal. They can’t prove their “innocence” either because they don’t get a hearing or because the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) responsible for conducting hearings has already made its decisions in advance.
Eritreans have been collectively characterized as draft dodgers or economic migrants. One Israeli interior minister justified this conclusion after having consulted Eritrea’s ambassador to Israel, which is like asking Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to confirm that Iran has no interest in developing nuclear weapons.
Another lie is the claim that NGOs and individuals criticizing government refugee policies or expressing concern about the treatment of African asylum seekers are “bleeding heart” liberals or even worse, “leftists.” Elie Wiesel supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critique of the Iran nuclear agreement and advocated kind treatment for refugees in Israel and the West.
Former Chief Rabbi Israel Lau once said that it was not right to put asylum seekers in prison who had done no wrong and that giving preference to our own poor was not to be at the expense of the other. Was Rabbi Lau a “bleeding heart” liberal who cared more about foreigners than his own people? Misinformation about Africa strengthens the case for forced deportation. Here are some examples. 1) Who can blame the poor African economic migrant for wanting to come to Israel, which has a much higher standard of living, to improve their lives? 2) If we don’t make life miserable for African asylum seekers, they will stay forever and millions will soon be knocking down the doors to enter, and 3) Israel is a small country with limited resources that has its own problems and cannot afford to support African refugees.
Facts: 1) Western Europe with its higher wages, benefits and access to public services has been far more attractive to African economic migrants than Israel, and has granted refugee status to asylum seekers much more frequently. 2) African asylum seekers don’t expect to stay permanently even in European countries that grant them refugee status. Eritreans and Darfurians are very much committed to eventually returning to their homeland when political conditions improve. 3) Israel wants to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Uganda, a poor country with a per capita income of $890 and more than 1.2 million refugees already. According to the Israeli press, Rwanda, another poor and densely populated country, has just agreed to accept forced deportation asylum seekers in exchange for undisclosed benefits.
Incitement is reflected in recent statements by government officials calling to give back south Tel Aviv to its Israeli residents, who have has been “occupied” and terrorized by large numbers of African asylum seekers. Let us not forget Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s charge that African asylum seekers are a “cancer” on Israeli society. Hence, it is not surprising that the government sees forced migration as the most effective means and final solution for getting rid of Israel’s toxic human waste.
Have we Jews forgotten how often we were refugees fleeing slavery, persecution, pogroms and genocide over the centuries seeking asylum in strange countries? We know the heart of the stranger and the refugee. No to forced deportation! Jews don’t deport refugees.
The author is a Jerusalem-based international development consultant specializing in African democracy and development issues and relationships between religion and politics.