2018-01-12 17:06:36 UTC
By ISABEL KERSHNER, JAN. 4, 2018, NY Times
JERUSALEM Israel is offering a stark choice to tens of thousands of
African migrants in the country: Agree to leave voluntarily by the end
of March, with a plane ticket and a grant of $3,500, or face possible
Every country must guard its borders, Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said on Wednesday, announcing the plan. The infiltrators
have a clear choice cooperate with us and leave voluntarily,
respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools
at our disposal, which are also according to the law.
Later, on Facebook, Mr. Netanyahu wrote, The government approved a
plan today that will give every infiltrator two options: a flight
ticket out or jail.
It is the latest phase of Israels long campaign to expel tens of
thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers, mostly Eritrean and
Sudanese, who entered the country illegally. At least 20,000 have
already left Israel. The mission now, Mr. Netanyahu said, is to
deport the rest.
Mr. Netanyahu said a few months ago that Israel had reached
understandings with African countries willing to absorb the migrants,
but without identifying the countries. Based on testimonies of people
who have already left, Israeli rights groups say the main destination
appears to be Rwanda.
According to a news report in Rwanda, the countrys foreign affairs
minister said in November that it was in negotiations with Israel to
take in African migrants who did not want to return to their countries
of origin, and that up to 10,000 asylum seekers could eventually be
settled in Rwanda.
The United Nations refugee agency has expressed concern over such
proposals. The agency, and Israeli rights groups, say they are
concerned that people who have gone to Rwanda have not found adequate
safety or a durable solution to their plight, and have continued on
dangerous journeys within Africa or to Europe.
They are not being granted any status or work permits there, nor a
safe haven, said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for Hotline for Refugees
and Migrants, an Israeli nonprofit group that collected dozens of
testimonies from those who left previously for Rwanda and for other
countries including Uganda, some of whom later made it to Europe.
They keep going on their journey many find themselves in Libya,
Ms. Sadot said, adding that many were then exposed to threats such as
torture and human trafficking.
The new plan promoted by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, of the
ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Gilad Erdan, the public security
minister, who is from Mr. Netanyahus conservative Likud Party is
the latest phase of a long-running political and legal struggle over
the African migrants fate.
Critics have denounced the campaign as an effort to distract from
corruption investigations against Mr. Netanyahu, and have asserted
that the timing is political, given the whiff of possible early
elections in the air. In the past, threats to jail the migrants en
masse have not been realized, not least because of the cost and a
space shortage in prisons.
About 60,000 migrants have surreptitiously crossed into Israel over
the once-porous border with Egypt since 2005, most of them Sudanese or
Eritreans who cannot be sent back home because of international
conventions that prevent the repatriation of asylum seekers to home
countries where they could face persecution.
Israeli officials insist that most of the Africans were not fleeing
persecution, but came as economic migrants looking for work.
After protests by the residents of south Tel Aviv, where the new
arrivals were concentrated, Israel announced in 2012 that it was
stepping up efforts to deter, detain and deport the migrants. Measures
including the construction of a steel barrier along Israels border
with Egypt have since cut the flow of African migrants to almost zero.
None arrived in 2017, according to the immigration authority.
A detention center, known as Holot, which was built in the desert to
house up to 3,000 migrants who entered illegally, is to close down
soon, after the Israeli Supreme Court placed limits on the time
migrants could be held there and the authorities found it to be no
longer effective in encouraging them to leave Israel.
The process of seeking asylum in Israel is a slow one. Of nearly
14,000 asylum applications submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese migrants
to the Israeli authorities over the last five years, only 10 people
have been granted refugee status eight from Eritrea and two from
Sudan, according to Ms. Sadot and the United Nations refugee agency.
The agency said another 200 Sudanese from Darfur had recently been
granted humanitarian status in Israel. Thousands of asylum requests
are pending. The Immigration Authority did not respond to a request
Anwar Suleiman Arbab, 38, left the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan in
2003 and went to Libya. After five years there, he tried to make it to
Europe but failed. A friend told me Israel is a good place, he said
in an interview.
So in 2008 Mr. Arbab paid Bedouins to help him cross the border into
Israel from Egypt. He was detained for five months and released, and
then later detained again for 18 months in Holot. For the last two
years he has been living in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, on a
temporary visa, working in a small restaurant and studying English.
Given a choice in 2014 of leaving for Africa or being detained in
Holot, he chose Holot. He had applied for asylum a year earlier, he
said, and has still not received an answer.
He said that there was fear and concern among African migrants in
Israel as new measures continued to be introduced, but that his answer
had not changed.
Today, he said, if its between going back to Africa or to jail in
Israel, Ill go to jail.