51,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who fled from their home countries to Israel have been subjected to unfair coercive laws which threaten life-long detention, unless the migrants decide to leave, Human Rights Watch said today. Thousands of these African nationals came to Israel seeking sanctuary, and upon return to their countries, could face extremely harsh punishment. “Israel is obliged not to return a person to her/his country of origin if her/his life or freedom would be at risk,” Walpurga Englbrecht, representative to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Tel Aviv, wrote to Al-Jazeera. “The same applies to transfer to third countries if there is the danger that the person would be refouled to her/his country of origin from there.”
There has been a rapid influx of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Israel, and anti-migrant sentiment is growing. Problems with the standard of living in cities with large African populations are often blamed on them. Israel has attempted to deal with the problem by either deporting or detaining African nationals who refuse to leave the country. These policies have been somewhat effective in encouraging the migrants to leave. According to the report published by Human Rights Watch, “by the end of June 2014, at least 6,400 Sudanese and at least 367 Eritreans had officially left Israel for their home countries.” Officials say that those who have left have done so of their own free will.
In May 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu said that the immigrants represent “a threat to the social fabric of society, our national security, our national identity … and … our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.” A month later he announced plans to “deter, detain and deport illegal migrants” following growing unrest over the large population of African migrants. Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quoted as saying, “the infiltrators, along with the Palestinians, will quickly bring us to the end of the Zionist dream…. We don’t need to import more problems from Africa.”
According to HRW, “under 2012 and 2013 amendments to Israel’s 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law authorizing indefinite detention, Israel has detained up to 3,000 at any given time” and tens of thousands more who live in Israel’s large cities face the threat of detention daily. In late 2013, the Holot “Residency Center” was established, with a capacity of 3,000 and plans to expand, and requires the migrants within its walls to sign in three times daily and remain within at night. It is a detention center in every sense–except in the sense where Israel refuses to call it that. Especially when compared to their status in other countries, it is near impossible to gain recognition as a refugee in Israel, and so far only two migrants from Eritrea, and none from the Sudan, have managed it. Complex laws make it difficult for immigrants to get work or provide food for their families.
Has Israel forgotten? In a nation of immigrants, how can the government or the people justify this kind of behavior? Now, quoting verses from the Old Testament is not usually how I win arguments, but seeing as it’s Israel, how about this one? “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21
) Or this one? “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34
) When Leviticus
has a more human rights-friendly take on an issue than your country does, that’s probably a good time to do some self-reflection.
An editorial in the Jerusalem Post decries Israel’s behavior toward asylum seeks as “a downright desecration of the name of God,” or “Hilul Hashem,”–not a term used lightly. The author writes that it has become clear that “the time has come for Israel to change its policy toward African asylum seekers – for the sake of the asylum seekers, for the sake of Israel, the Jewish people, human rights, and for the sake of heaven.” His argument concludes:
“To me, the abuse of African asylum seekers – people who have come to this country to save their own lives – in the name of Judaism and the Jewish state is the greatest Hilul Hashem of all. As Jews we are taught we must love the stranger because we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt. We must not mistreat a runaway slave for we were once runaway slaves. Yes, I understand that Israel may not have the capacity to absorb every refugee from Africa who wishes to enter, but Israel now has a fence and virtually none are arriving. And Israel, a country of over seven million Jews, has the ability and the moral and Jewish obligation to grant temporary asylum to the 48,000 strangers that are already living in our midst, or at the very least to process their claims. That is what it means to be a Jewish state.”
I could talk now about my feelings toward Israel in general, but I’d rather not get into it, because the whole thing would just turn into a ten-entry series of me ranting while trying really hard not to make anyone angry. Also, I’ve studied Israel and Palestine too much for my own happiness, and any more of it right now is going to make my brain explode. So instead, here is a video of a dog teaching a puppy to go down the stairs. Definitely my favorite video on the Internet.
NO, I’M NOT CRYING. YOU’RE CRYING. But seriously, if you guys like this Good News-style ending, I might make it a regular thing.
On another note, I’m trying to keep these entries a little shorter (at least for now) because right now they’re about the same length as the articles I write for the school newspaper, and are beginning to consume my life. So, I’m very proud of the quality of my earlier entries, but hopefully there will be good, too, and less brain-explode-y for me.