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Sudanese refugees, activists hope for change in policies

Activists believe the deportation of South Sudanese will most probably not lower the number of African migrants in Israel, and it is also a direct violation of Israel’s obligations under international commitments.

Israeli authorities have begun arresting dozens of African migrants, as reported by +972’s Mya Guarnieri. It is the latest in an effort to crackdown on individuals who over the years have entered the country illegally. The move comes despite a court order that the government allow them one week to turn themselves in voluntarily. The one week period expires on Thursday.

A municipal worker moves the lawn at Lewinsky Park amid loitering Sudanese refugees, including one sleeping on the ground, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

A municipal worker moves the lawn at Lewinsky Park amid loitering Sudanese refugees, including one sleeping on the ground, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The government hopes to deport an unspecified number of migrants in the coming days, mostly back to South Sudan. Joseph Monyde Malieny, a postgraduate South Sudanese who has been in Israel since 2006, has written on +972 an email plea urging the government to allow his fellow nationals to stay.

Figures vary on the exact number of South Sudanese who are in Israel. Asaf Weitzen, an attorney with the Hotline for Migrant Workers, estimates the number to stand at around 700, while the government places the figure at more than double. Due to their newly-independent state, the South Sudanese are no longer technically afforded the same protections their northern Sudanese neighbors are, namely the right to remain in Israel.

By its own admission, Israel cannot repatriate Sudanese – and Eritreans – back to their home country, as it is a signatory to an international convention that serves as a guideline for the treatment of refugees. (That has not stopped Israeli Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, tasked with dealing with the issue, from suggesting that war-torn Eritrea is just as dangerous as Israel’s southern city of Sderot.)

Sudanese and Eritrean nationals make up 85 percent of the estimated 60,000 African migrants currently in Israel. Meaning, deportating all non-Sudanese and non-Eritreans will not really put a dent in the number of African migrants in Israel. It may indeed encourage others not to come, as the government hopes and claims. But it might also further highlight Israel’s policy of not deporting Sudanese and Eritreans, and thus draw more of them to Israel.

The government insists it will detain those who are here in order to prevent others from coming.  But activists here say such moves are in direct violation of Israel’s obligations under its international commitments. For Weitzen, what-to-do is clear:

We are always saying the solution is to give them basic human rights, to give them the right to health care, give them the right to work, this will allow a spread of population, and ensure the moral obligations of Israel.

Levinsky Park sits in the heart of the slummy center of Israel’s financial center. That has been the case for decades, as it was meters away from Tel Aviv’s old central bus station.

The corner near Lewinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The corner near Levinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Now the park serves as the congregating point for recently-arrived African migrants. The government here calls them “infiltrators,” with one official referring to them as a “cancer.” Ironically, Levinsky Park sits adjacent to a local police precinct.

Plainclothes agents check the paperwork of Sudanese loitering at Lewinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Plainclothes agents check the papers of Sudanese loitering at Levinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

On Monday, at least two men dressed in plainclothes were scouring the park checking papers and radioing-in information before returning to the police station.

Those at Levinsky Park call themselves refugees with nowhere else to go. 27 year-old Abdulla Ali came from Darfur in Sudan nine months ago, escaping the war there.

The condition in Sudan is harsh. Economically. Politically. Here it is different. And I myself came here because I need to change my life for the better.

Question to Abdulla Ali: “What happens if you go back to Sudan?”

I don’t know. I don’t know to answer that question. I can’t answer.

Over the years, less than 200 individuals have been officially recognized as refugees, and thus, allowed to legally work.  The rest cannot.  They spend their days loitering in places like Levinsky Park. Some turn to theft and petty crime. That has angered local residents of the surrounding neighborhood, and led to a recent upswing in sentiment against them.

27 year-old Sudanese refugee Abdulla Ali spends his day at Lewinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

27 year-old Sudanese refugee Abdulla Ali spends his day at Lewinsky Park, Tel Aviv, June 11, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

In response, earlier this year, the government passed the so-called “Anti-Infiltration Law.”  When enforced, the law will allow for the immediate detention – without trial – for up to three years of individuals who illegally enter the country. A proposed detention facility in the country’s south will now be expanded to accommodate some 25,000 people. Many in the Israeli public claim that the country – already strapped with a military expenditure which accounts for a large portion of its annual budget – can’t afford having the Africans here. But for Weitzen, Israel can’t morally afford otherwise:

Can Israel send people to their death? …or to a place where their human rights will be offended seriously? I think the answer is no.

Abdulla Ali, the migrant from Darfur, hopes other Israelis agree, and again soon:

We respect Israel and the government of Israel. And we hope they can respect us. Whoever is willing to help us, whoever gives us his hand, he will find us to be honest people.

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    1. Kolumn9

      Ah yes, the typical ‘Israel can not morally afford to expel them’. This is a wonderful rhetorical device given that it has no objective definition. Regardless of the actual objective costs of any policy apparently Israel is can not morally afford any policy other than that advocated by the extreme left. Can I get a numeric objective figure for Israel’s moral purse and how much the expulsion of infiltrators is going to cost? What is the currency? Could Israel compensate for such a cost by say, building renewable power generation facilities to save the world from imminent ecological collapse? How about by sending aid to Africa? Does Israel’s moral purse ever get thicker and if so can Israel then actually afford policies that the extreme left doesn’t like? I suppose I need a course in moral economics since the discipline for now appears to be rather vague.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Shaun

      “The condition in Sudan is harsh. Economically. Politically. Here it is different. And I myself came here because I need to change my life for the better.”

      You should read 972 more often. Then you will see that Israel certainly does not offer better political or economic conditions…

      Reply to Comment
    3. caden

      Shaun is right, all the government needs to do is print up all the 972 columns that deal with this. And airdrop them in Africa. Nobody in his right mind would then go to the new Nazi Germany. Which going by the WW2 allusions I see from the writers here must be the case.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rehmat

      New Nazi Germany!! I wonder why Bibi called Angela Markel the Israel’s “best friend” among the EU countries??

      Or maybe it’s German Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass who in his poem called Zionist regime the greatest threat to Israel – rather than Islamic Republic of Iran.

      Or Flecia Langer, who in 2009 praised Iranian president Dr. ahmadinejad for standing-up to Israel and its western poodles at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva: “What Ahmadinejad said in Geneva is the truth”.

      Or Dr. Wilfried Murad Hofmann, German diplomat, author and former Director of Information NATO in Brussels converted to Islam in 1980s.

      But for the Hasbara ignorants – Sudan doesn’t have Jews whose ancestors helped German Nazis but the Jewish terrorist militia IRGUN did.


      Reply to Comment
    5. Kanadi


      To those who claim that the asylum seekers here are not true asylum seekers but, as the disgusting euphemism puts it, labour infiltrators: Israel has given them group protection according to recommendations by the UNHCR. This means that it is assumed that they have legitimate asylum claims until proven otherwise, based on the situations in the countries from which they come. In Canada, where I’m from, more than 95 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers, when their cases were assessed, were found to have legitimate refugee claims. If you think that most people here are not refugees but labour migrants, tell your government to prove it! If Israel developed a system by which asylum claims could be reviewed and decided upon, according to its commitment to the international refugee law it ratified but then never incorporated into its national law, then we’d actually know.

      But Israel does not want this. It doesn’t want to develop any regulation that might designate someone a refugee who is not Jewish. THIS is the problem, that Israel refuses to deal with the problem because of its ethnic nationalist neurosis. Even those 200 were not actually granted “refugee” status, only temporary residency outside any refugee law. Israel doesn’t have ANY refugee law. Why? Because making official policy regarding “refugees” who aren’t Jewish opens up a whole new can of worms…

      Israel also has close economic and political ties to Eritrea, from where 65 percent of asylum seekers come. Is it not somehow just that Israel take in people fleeing from a brutal totalitarian regime that Israel itself has helped prop up?

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      Roee, your post correctly reflects the fact that sending these people back to their home implies much pain to the people.
      You also correctly don’t claim that these people followed the law when entering Israel, or that Israel is violating international law when sending them back.
      So the bottom line is that while Israel fails its duty because it didn’t process the requests for refugee status within a reasonable time, there’s nothing wrong with the latest decisions of the court and handling by the immigration authorities – in essence, the court’s decision about these people is that they shouldn’t stay in Israel.
      Whether or not these decisions will impact the flow of African trying to get to Israel is unknown, and irrelevant to the topic.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Kanadi

      Sorry, Max, but that’s not exactly right. Israel is indeed violating international law by detaining these people without cause for extended periods, not processing their asylum applications, and not providing access to services. It is also notable that this was international law Israel was instrumental in drafting and bringing into existence in 1951. There is everything wrong with the latest court decision, the decision to essentially punish brutally those people already in the country to make it so bad for them that no one else will want to come. This from a country founded by refugees escaping conflict. Abominable!

      According to Rueven Ziegler, a lawyer at the Israel Democracy Institute:

      “Sixty years after the drafting of the refugee convention, Israel, one of its initiators and a state party since 1954 has not incorporated it into its domestic legislation. More fundamentally, it acts in contravention of some of its basic principles, which require conducting individual refugee status determinations without regard to the nationality of the asylum seekers; refraining from punishing border crossers if their intention was to submit an asylum application; restricting detention to the minimal necessary period and persons, based on an individual risk assessment; and guaranteeing access to social services, a fortiori, whilst the asylum application is assessed.

      Sudanese and Eritrean nationals are currently ineligible to submit asylum applications. Concurrently, Israel recognises that it cannot deport most of them back to Egypt (from which they have crossed into Israel), since Egypt may return them to their respective countries of origin, where their lives or liberty may be in danger. As noted above, they are issued ‘permit 2(a)(5)’ which denies them access to social security and nonemergency medical services, and does not entitle them to work. Many ‘permit 2(a)(5)’ holders are held in detention for lengthy periods. The construction of the planned detention centre will facilitate the expansion of these detention policies. Similar permit and detention policies apply to individuals whose asylum applications are pending. Such policies are untenable both from a legal and from a humanitarian perspective. It is imperative that Israel follow its obligations under the refugee convention.”

      Read the whole thing here: http://www.idi.org.il/sites/english/ResearchAndPrograms/ConsititionalLaw/Pages/AMatterofDefinition.aspx

      Reply to Comment