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.
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.
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.
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.
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.