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Africans seeking asylum, in danger and targeted in Israel

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Jan 17, 2014 - 9:05:33 AM

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African migrants protest outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, Jan. 8. Thousands of African migrants demanded to be recognized as refugees, in a protest Wednesday outside of Israel’s parliament, part of a series of events showing the migrants’ growing frustration with their fate in Israel. Photo: AP World Wide Photo

( - The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the only thing that could slow down massive protests involving thousands of Africans seeking asylum.

After spending 8 years in a coma following a massive stroke, Mr. Sharon was pronounced dead on January 11. In a show of respect to the larger Israeli society, following his death, protest organizers elected to temper their protest while the Israeli people mourn their beloved war hero, whom many believe to be a war criminal.

Organizers announced it was just the first phase of their efforts to resist inhumane treatment and that there are plans to resume protests within the next few coming days.

Large demonstrations were held in front of Israel’s parliament with protestors consisting of Africans from the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. On January 7, they protested in Tel Aviv and on January 8 in Jerusalem. In one detention center, Al-Jazeera reports that up to 150 asylum seekers had participated in a hunger strike. The massive demonstrations—described by many as a general strike—began January 5.

The group Freedom4Refugees representing the African asylum seekers have taken to social media to generate support for their cause using their presence on Facebook and Twitter to spread images, make calls to action and to pass on information in their quest for refugee rights.

“International community: we urge you to advocate that Israel stop our imprisonment and starts (sic) respecting refugee rights! Israel’s latest policy of arbitrary detention for endless time without trial continues to humiliate our community,” said a Jan. 5 statement.

In Israel, Africans seeking asylum are described as “infiltrators” by Israeli law enforcement and political officials as an official designation and are accused by many Israelis of being the cause of growing violence. Recently passed legislation now allows Israel to imprison those seeking asylum for up to one year upon arrival in the country. Those Africans already in the country found to be in possession of expired visas could also be detained and possibly deported. According to human rights activists and Israel’s Interior Ministry, there are over 53,000 African migrants currently in Israel.

“We escaped from war, we escaped from genocide, so we are refugees,” protest organizer Dawit Damuz said in a widely broadcast interview with Euronews. “The Israeli government must give us the basic refugee rights including the right to work, the right to social services and welfare. We are living here until the situation in our homeland changes,” he added.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the majority come in through Israel’s southern border with Egypt. Bedouin smugglers are particularly active in smuggling drugs, money and humans. Israel has increasingly become a location for Africans seeking asylum since 2006. The UN’s Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR) is a multilateral treaty which defines what a refugee is, outlines the rights of those granted asylum as well as the responsibilities of the nations granting asylum.

The CRSR defines a refugee as a person “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationalality membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Because of the political instability and fighting in their home countries, many Sudanese and Eritreans have fled their home countries seeking work and stability in Israel.

Immigrants in danger

Going back to 2011, tension-filled protests were led by right wing Israelis with African immigrants as the target. In Israel, the African immigrant community is marginalized, and forced to live in segregated, poverty-stricken neighborhoods primarily in South Tel Aviv.

Unemployment is high and they live under the constant threat of detention and physical harm.

In the summer of 2012, Israeli nationalist thugs formed racist mobs and physically attacked Ethiopian neighborhoods. Towards the end of April of that same year, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Sudanese kindergarten in Tel Aviv. Influential rabbis have led campaigns in neighborhoods convincing Jews not to rent apartments to those seeking asylum. A number of Knesset members representing the ruling Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken at anti-immigrant rallies spewing forth comments laced with xenophobic rhetoric.

During one previous rally, Israeli Knesset member Miri Regev, who once served as a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces, attacked African immigrants referring to them as “a cancer in our body.” Regev has continued to stridently oppose asylum for the Africans. Another member of the Knesset, Danny Danon, recently reportedly called asylum seekers “a national plague.”

It appears that such venomous statements have not been tempered, but may be on the increase with those views being adopted by more Jews daily. Statements on the Knesset’s English language website reported Eli Yishai of Israel’s Shas party warning “that the protests being held by African migrants who infiltrated Israel illegally may turn violent,” and he also suggested taking advantage of protests “to transfer the migrants to holding facilities.”

Hip-hop activist Jasiri X is currently in Israel and has witnessed the inequality and protests firsthand. He told The Final Call he was in total solidarity with the African immigrants and even stood among them during protests. On January 11, he met some of the women leading protests in South Tel Aviv and marveled at the self-determination they displayed. He delivered a straightforward assessment of what he has seen during his time there.

“Being in Israel for the last week, I would describe their policies as White supremacy on steroids. Everyone who is not a Jew is treated as an invader and less than human by the State of Israel. They are forced to go through humiliating checkpoints daily, have different license plates, and given permits and ID cards that restrict their ability to travel throughout the land. They are even denied access to water and electricity. Arab Jews were forced to speak Hebrew and deny their culture and Ethiopian Jewish women were sterilized to control their population. So imagine being an African and immigrant or asylum seeker in a racist system of oppression, occupation and colonialism,” he added.

While Israeli authorities claim to be working on a peaceful and amicable resolution to this issue, the numbers tell a completely different story. According to Haaretz Daily, a center left newspaper, Israel has examined only 250 of 1,800 asylum requests and approved none by Eritrean or Sudanese nationals. There are also reports that many migrants are complaining that the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration of the Interior Ministry has been rejecting requests to renew visas. Another part the government’s “solution” includes an offer of $3,500 to those Eritreans and Sudanese in the country who participate in a “voluntary departure” back to their countries of origin.

Related news:

Backlash, mob attacks against African migrants in Israel (FCN, 06-13-2012)

South African Archbishop likens Palestinian life to life under apartheid (FCN, 11-16-2007)