Israel remains unmoved on refugee issue

About 10 000 African refugees took their protest to Parliament in Jerusalem during a week of demonstrations and strikes against harsh detention laws, and to demand that the authorities consider their asylum claims.

The speaker of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, refused to allow entry to a delegation to attend a meeting with politicians from left-wing parties.

The protesters had been barred "against the backdrop of the tension and general public atmosphere, as well as the fear that granting the infiltrators access will cause provocations in the Parliament", the speaker's office said.

Eli Yishai, the former interior minister, urged the government "to put every single one of the infiltrators in detention facilities, take their work permits, put them on aeroplanes and send them packing".

Outside Parliament, the acclaimed Israeli author David Grossman told protesters: "The idea of Israel contains the idea of refugees, of people who escaped from a terrible destiny to find refuge and shelter."

He said he felt "embarrassed and ashamed that we have reached this situation. Israel has not created this problem but there is a problem now, and we have to struggle with it and to solve it in the most humane way. You are not criminals: you are normal, ordinary people who are trapped in an abnormal and extreme situation."

Menial strikers
The strike by refugees, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, has affected hotels, restaurants and other services in which they are employed, usually without work permits in low-paid, menial jobs.

About 20 000 took part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Sunday and up to 15 000 protested outside the United States and European embassies and the offices of the United Nations's refugee agency on Monday. More than 100 detained refugees are on hunger strike.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said "infiltrators" from Africa threaten the Jewish character of Israel.

"These are not refugees … they are illegal immigrants who have come looking for work," he said.


There are an estimated 53 600 refugees or migrants from Africa in Israel, nearly all of whom entered through Egypt. The flow has been almost completely halted by the construction of a steel fence along Israel's border with Egypt last year.

According to interior ministry figures, none of the 1 800 ­asylum requests from Eritreans and Sudanese have been approved.

Last month, the Israeli government passed a law allowing for "infiltrators" to be compulsorily detained for up to a year. A new "open" centre in the desert has the capacity to hold up to 9 000 migrants indefinitely.

All are being encouraged to return to their countries of origin voluntarily.

Criminal treatment
"We have fled persecution, forced military conscription, dictatorship, civil wars and genocide. Instead of being treated as refugees by the government of Israel, we are treated as criminals," an organisation called Freedom4Refugees said.

"A range of unprecedented policy changes has caused us to take drastic measures to display our discontent, frustration and fear … We have asked the Israeli government to improve [its] asylum policies, recognise us as refugees and give us our rights accordingly. Instead, with every year that passes, we have been criminalised, met with xenophobia and increasingly dehumanising policies."

Critics of the government's policy say Israel has sought to attract hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, mainly from Southeast Asia, to take low-paid jobs such as care workers and agricultural labourers. Migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa could be offered such jobs instead, they say.

Some suggest Israel should be welcoming, given the history of the persecution of the Jews.

An editorial in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper on January 8 reminded Netanyahu of "the obligations required by Jewish moral values. Netanyahu, who speaks incessantly about the nation state of the Jewish people, has forgotten what it means to be a Jew." – © Guardian News & Media 2014 

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

Protests by local suppliers have delayed PPE delivery, which according to the DBE, is one of the reasons the reopening of schools has been pushed back until June 8

‘Soon he’ll be seen as threatening, not cute’: What it’s...

There is no separating George Floyd’s killing from the struggles black people have faced ever since the first slave ships landed on these shores

How schools could work during Covid

Ahead of their opening, the basic education department has given schools three models to consider to ensure physical distancing
Advertising

Press Releases

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday