Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Israeli policy on asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan is denial | IndepthAfrica


African refugees share breakfast at a shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday, February, 16, 2012. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. A growing number of African migrants say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel.
Gershom Gorenberg,prospect.org
Levinsky Park is where you meet a friend if you’re an African refugee living in South Tel Aviv. One recent afternoon, I found around 50 Sudanese and Eritreans sitting on the small stretch of lawn in groups of two or four or five. Nearly all were men in their twenties or thirties. Most were remarkably thin. They wore faded jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts, and talked softly amid the traffic roar.
The park is across Levinsky Street from Tel Aviv’s central bus station, the hulking gateway through which those who had to abandon their country entered the strange city. One man told me that he slept in the park for 10 nights after arriving at the bus station. Bedouin smugglers had brought him across Egypt’s Sinai desert. Israeli soldiers picked him up just inside Israeli territory, questioned him and left him penniless on the street in the southern city of Beersheba. An Israeli gave him bus fare to reach Tel Aviv. Another refugee who came by the same route told me he slept in the park for a month.
Since 2006, over 60,000 people have crossed the border from Egypt into Israel. Nearly two-thirds are from Eritrea, most of the rest from Sudan. Officially they are “infiltrators.” Most end up in the poor neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv, among working-class and poor Israelis.
The government hasn’t tried to deport them to home countries where they might face death. Neither, though, does it grant them refugee status.
Instead, Israeli government policy is denial: denial of a legal avenue for Sudanese and Eritreans to prove they are seeking asylum from persecution; denial that Israel has the same refugee challenge as other developed countries; unwillingness to pay attention to where Israel is actually located; blindness to what Israel’s history teaches about giving refuge.
Right now, new refugees aren’t arriving in Tel Aviv. The flow across the violence-ridden Sinai has dropped, but that’s just a piece of the reason. Under the draconian Infiltration Law, enacted last January, those who do make it to Israel are detained in camps—really open-air prisons—in southern Israel, to be held for three years or more.

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