by Hannah Nagar
In the wake of the new year, a plan has been announced in Israel to deport illegal immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan to a Third country – either Rwanda or Uganda – with $3,500 and a plane ticket, or be imprisoned indefinitely (Middle East Eye, 2018). This is the newest measure taken by Netanyahu’s right-wing government to rid Israel of 40,000 African asylum seekers, many of whom reside in Southern Tel Aviv in inadequate housing without any job opportunities and no access to health and welfare services (Middle East Eye, 2018; ASSAF, 2018). Offering Sudanese and Eritrean migrants money to leave is not a new measure the Israeli government has taken; it has been a tactic employed since 2014, but largely rejected by migrants. With the Israeli government terming them ‘infiltrators’ and economic migrants, it seems the mistreatment can be traced back to the influx of the late 2000s.
From 2006 to 2012, African refugees made the treacherous journey through the Sinai Peninsula from Eritrea and Sudan (African Refugee Development Center, Israel, 2017). Not wanting to settle in Egypt, it was fairly easy to cross the border into Israel with no substantial wall in place to prohibit access into the country. Many were refugees from Darfur or refugees escaping the authoritarian regime in Eritrea, only to find themselves detained as soon as they crossed the border into Israel (BBC, 2016). This is how Israel’s migrant crisis of 40,000 refugees trying to claim asylum commenced. 2013 marked the completion of the Egypt-Israel border fence, which has stopped asylum seekers from reaching Israel. With no ability to return home to their country of origin, these refugees are stuck in a place of limbo, and have been for nearly a decade. The Holot Detention Center in the Negev is where many of the refugees are detained. With strict curfews enforced on the detainees, life is almost impossible for the thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese placed here. Many are men in their twenties and thirties who were students and activists back home and have risked everything for a better life (BBC,2016). Not only this, but also most asylum requests have been rejected by Israel, and it was only made possible to claim asylum from 2013 (Middle East Eye, 2018).
The previous law on asylum seekers is under a policy of “temporary collective protection” (Assaf.org.il, 2017). That meant they would not be deported; however, with a lack of access to basic services in order to integrate, they are left isolated and seen by many to be a burden on Israeli society which is a major mistake as they could be a source of boosting the workforce and economy in Israel. This lack of work productivity becomes a drain on Israeli society, and with only 1% of refugee claims recognised in Israel, it is clear the Israeli government has no intention of letting these asylum seekers stay there (African Refugee Development Center, Israel, 2017). The future for these refugees appears bleak. However, there are NGOs in place in Israel to help those who need it, such as The African Refugee Development Center and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, which grants them access to education, and help with social issues and the law.
ASSAF (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel) was founded in 2007, working with refugees and asylum seekers to ‘promote the rights of refugees in their encounters with the state authorities’ (ASSAF,2018). It supports those men, women and children who have experienced traumatic experiences in their home countries and are living without status or access to basic human rights. The work this organisation does is pivotal for refugees and asylum seekers achieving rights within Israel. I had the pleasure of attending an evening seminar held by ASSAF volunteers in Tel Aviv, educating young students on the current situation in Israel. I got to listen to the hopeless situations of Eritrean and Sudanese men, one of whom had to return to the Holot Detention Center that evening before the curfew. An upsetting situation for both refugees and asylum seekers, it seems their future in Israel is uncertain. Victims of torture and human trafficking, these vulnerable people need a lot of support and help from advocates to support them in the wake of this new announcement for deportation to a Third country. Thus, a hopeless situation continues.