A Primer on African Refugees In Israel

Yesterday, it was mansplained to me that Israel cannot possibly be an apartheid state because it lets in all these refugees… And that refugees wouldn’t want to come here if it were. The problems with this argument are too many to list, but here are the highlights: Apartheid means segregation, and in its wider context applies to a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. The question of whether Israel, as a political/legal/military/bureaucratic system discriminates (against Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, foreign workers, non-Jews, Ethiopian Israelis, Mizrahi Israelis…) is not in any way dependent on the entry of refugees to the country. That is what you might call a fallacy. But the attempted use of this sad fallacy brought to front and center, yet again, how misinformed people are — right here in Israel — about African refugees in Israel. Because Israel doesn’t LET THEM IN. At all. Ever. And they don’t come here because it is a paradise — they come here because we’re the closest place they CAN come to, to get away from war zones, mass murder, enslavement, and rape. So I wrote this note on Facebook in a probably vain attempt to inject some reality into the situation.

There are somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Africa in Israel today. Mostly from The Sudan and Eritrea.

None of these refugees are recognized by Israel as refugees. NONE. That’s ZERO.

Since 2003, fewer than 10% of these Africans have been granted some sort of temporary residency in Israel on humanitarian grounds. That’s a sum total of 2700-3000 Africans. Leaving the other 32,000 to 50,000 designated by Israeli authorities as INFILTRATORS.

Since 2007, the default treatment of asylum seekers is detention. When the prisons fill up, the refugees are released to city centers without further assistance — meaning, no home, no job, no legal status enabling them to find a job, no healthcare, no NOTHING. The slums of South Tel Aviv are the refuge of the lucky — many remain homeless. Or in prison.

Levinsky Tent Encampment After Violent Raid by Police and City Inspectors

Of course, none of this accounts for the unknown numbers who died or were detained on their way out of their countries of origin, or the Africans who have been subject to “hot return” by the IDF — a government policy that instructs the army to force refugees “back” to a neighboring country — in this case Egypt — where they are typically incarcerated, and denied any access to asylum-seeking procedures. There have also been incidents of Egyptian soldiers shooting at the Africans being “hot returned”. Hundreds of refugees that we know of have been imprisoned in Egypt or forcibly returned to the Sudan or Eritrea.

Meanwhile, those left in Tel Aviv or elsewhere in Israel also have no legal status or protection. In addition to being denied basic human rights to healthcare, education and the like, they are subject to police raids and random arrests, violence, and eviction. In recent weeks, the City of Tel Aviv destroyed the tent cities where many of the refugees were sheltering from the winter. One man, Jonathan Johannes Birkau, subsequently died from the cold.

Ever since the “refugee problem” began growing to more than sample proportions, Israel has been doing everything in her power to prevent additional refugees from crossing the border. The criminalization of refugees has been a de facto development, and now is becoming a de jure status as well:

Israel recently passed the “Infiltrator Law”, that provides that anyone crossing the border uninvited can be placed in detention — without any administrative hearing or trial — for up to three years. There is no age limit on this detention — it is being planned for adults and children alike. And no appeals system, or evidence required, because the law doesn’t care if the people detained are actually asylum seekers or work immigrants. The law also criminalizes anyone who provides assistance to refugees, providing for prison sentences for transgressors.

To this end, the govenment is building an internment camp in the Negev.

The new facility being built to “house” these men, women, and children will allocate about 5 square meters for each refugee, which is *significantly* less than even Israeli prisons allocate per prisoner. Government sources have said that this is intentional, to make it uncomfortable for the Africans to be in Israel.

None of this even begins to delve into the racial distinction made between the African “infiltrators” and say, people from Europe or the US who don’t otherwise have a “right” to be here, but are not placed in prison, and whose homes are not raided in the middle of the night, whose children are not arrested, imprisoned and deported as has been done regularly to non-western workers and refugees living in Israel, especially since 2010, when 400 young children born in Israel were ordered to be deported, with nearly 1000 more still facing deportation. (Children as young as 3-years-old are regularly put in prison cells, and deprived of food and medicine; authorities have also been caught in mulitple lies as to the legality of many of the parents involved, and children have been deported SEPARATELY from their parents. But Israel’s endemic racism is a wider issue than that of refugees, and too large to be dealt with in a note.)

At the time of this writing, about 2000 refugees from the Ivory Coast are in the process of being deported back to the IC, even though international humanitarian organizations are still recommending against refugees’ returning. The Israeli move is breaking up families, and depriving people of homes they have lived in since 1996.

Welcome to paradise.

Photo by: Shachaf Polakow

3 thoughts on “A Primer on African Refugees In Israel

  1. Educate them sister! I learned of the deportation of African refugees in Spain who were told that the government couldn’t fulfill it’s “obligations” to them. Meaning they couldn’t receive social services like retirement and healthcare because they were too many of them. Excuse me? Won’t more people, contribute more money to the system? But here’s the kicker: A few were even PAID to leave the country! If these were mere economic issues then why are you paying people anything if you’re out of money?

  2. The mansplainer should be spanked (…but you’d probably go to jail, so don’t do that, yet). Forgive me, but Israel not being apartheid is plain daft and hypocritical. Depriving Palestinians of their lands and livelihoods would hardly make a good case.

    …and the endemic racism, well. Maybe i won’t talk about it, lest my favourite blogger be in trouble for it.

    Keep up your work, i’m sure the secular, centrist, forward forces of the world appreciate it!

  3. Pingback: Israel to ship African refugees to Uganda | Rehmat's World

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