Since 2009, 17,778 Africans, mostly Jews, have applied for asylum in Israel seeking refuge in the Jewish state. Only 45 of these applicants have been granted refugee status, as most applications have been denied & withdrawn or imprisoned in the Negev Desert allegedly on the basis of being Black.
African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana. In a report issued Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, Human Rights Watch says Israeli authorities have coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese to return to their homes, where they may face serious abuse.
BEIRUT — Amnesty International released its “The State of the World’s Human Rights” on Wednesday. In the report, the NGO asserts that Israel has denied the rights for fair determination of African asylum seekers and held more than 2,000 African asylum seekers in indefinite detention in a prison in the Negev Desert in 2014.
“None of it is surprising,” said Rania Masri, associate director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship in Beirut, to MintPress News.
“I think this is what we need to recognize. The moment there’s a state that’s built on supremacy of one community [Israeli Jews] on another [Palestinians], then it becomes natural for that community that claims supremacy to also discriminate within itself.”
One case currently being investigated features allegations that the state of Israel deliberately attempted to reduce birth rates among its Ethiopian citizens, presumably because they are black.
Ethiopian-Israeli women have accused Israel of injecting Ethiopian women with Depo-Provera, a long-lasting contraceptive, against their will. Hedva Eyal, who currently works with a women’s rights research group in Haifa, Israel, first made the allegations in 2009. The allegations resurfaced with potent vigor in 2012, following the release of a documentary by Gal Gabai, an Israeli journalist at Educational TV.
Knesset member Penina Tamanu-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born female to hold office in Israel, said of the allegations: “The community is worried and upset over the question whether it’s possible that someone didn’t want Ethiopian children, and whether there was a systematic policy of exploiting the distress of women who were in transit camps en route to Israel.”
The Israeli Health Ministry has since launched an investigation into the controversial practice.
“It’s pure racism,” Masri told MintPress. “It breaks up this mythology of Jews of different colors and of different backgrounds. It’s nonsense.”
“I mean, a religion can never be a nation,” she said.
Israel does not want African migrants
African migrants chant slogans during a protest in Rabin’s square in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP
In December 2014, the Knesset enacted the Law for Prevention of Infiltration and Ensuring the Departure of Infiltrators from Israel, which authorizes the automatic detention of refugees and asylum seekers for three months at the Saharonim Prison in the Negev Desert, if they can not be deported. Those “already in Israel, as well as new arrivals (following their three months of detention) can be detained at the Holot detention centre for 20 months.”
The law originated in the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, enacted just five years after the Knesset was established and the new state was born. The law was intended to prevent attacks on citizens inside the country and to keep Palestinians, which it described as “infiltrators,” out of Israel.
The law defines “infiltrators” as any citizen, resident or visitor of a neighboring Arab state, as well as any Palestinian citizen who “left his ordinary place of residence in an area which has become a part of Israel for a place outside Israel.” And it allows Israel to imprison, fine, and deport anyone who fits the above description.
Michael Omer-Man, the managing editor of +972 Magazine, a news website based in Israel and Palestine, wrote that the legislation was “intended to stop Fedayeen [Palestinian nationalist fighters] sneaking into Israel.” Yet it also “created a legal mechanism for preventing the return of Palestinian refugees in direct contravention of the spirit of the [1951 U.N.] Refugee Convention, which ironically, Israel ratified the same year in 1954.”
The December legislation now defines African refugees as “infiltrators,” reflecting the racist sentiments increasingly held by the Israeli public, politicians and media since the mid-2000s.
Amnesty International reports:
“Asylum seekers were prohibited by law from taking paid work and had little or no access to health care and welfare services. Meanwhile, the authorities pressured many to leave Israel ‘voluntarily’ under a process that paid them to withdraw their asylum claims and return to their home countries or travel to third countries. More than 5,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals were reported to have accepted ‘voluntary return’ in the first 10 months of the year, some leaving after facing imminent risk of detention, despite fears that they faced persecution or torture in the countries from which they had fled.”
Where did it all start?
A Sudanese refugee family sit on the ground surrounded by Israeli army soldiers after they crossed from Egypt into Israel, 2007. Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP
In a revealing article about the origins of Israel’s racist policies toward African migrants, Omer-Man wrote last January that the country’s stance toward African refugees and asylum seekers started taking its current form in 2006, after Egyptian policed killed 26 Sudanese migrants who had been camping outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Cairo for three months.
Following this attack, about 1,000 migrants — mostly Sudanese — crossed the Sinai Desert and entered Israel. Omer-Man wrote, “Although the first asylum seekers came in small and demographically inconsequential numbers, the Jewish state quickly began shaping its perception of the new arrivals as a crisis that threatened its ethnic identity, and started looking for solutions.”
In September 2007, Israel’s Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit responded to the rise in refugee numbers and the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, by saying, “Israel, with its history, must offer assistance.” The history Sheetrit was referring to was the country’s status as “a state founded by and for refugees,” wrote Omer-Man. There were about 1,700 Sudanese refugees in Israel at that time.
Behind the scenes, however, Israel was looking for ways to avoid accepting the influx of migrants. A WikiLeaks document from 2007 reveals that Israel’s foreign ministry only wanted to accept 1,500 refugees annually, yet 400 to 500 were arriving each month.
Referencing another WikiLeaks document, Omer-Man shows that Israel was attempting to create an agreement with Egypt to “accept the return of all future Sudanese asylum seekers who transited Egypt en route to Israel — with an Egyptian promise not to send them to an uncertain fate in Sudan — and an expectation that Israel would grant refugee status to some of the Sudanese from Darfur that are already in Israel.”
This plan never panned out, and there isn’t any evidence to suggest that Egypt made an agreement with Israel regarding African refugees.
Israel had also started resorting to what has been termed “hot returns,” in which border agents turned asylum seekers away upon arrival. The “hot return” policy violates the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, “which is a refugee’s right not to be returned to a country where he or she will face persecution or to a country that will return him/her to the place of persecution.”
Meanwhile, politicians and the media were starting to take note of the growing presence of African refugees in Israel. The UNHCR had been tasked with determining the status of these migrants up until mid-2009, when Israel’s interior ministry took over.
African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard near the border with Egypt, in southern Israel.
The astounding failure of the Israeli government to address the needs and rights of African refugees and asylum seekers came to light this week, when official state statistics showed that from 2009 to 2015 only four out of 5,573 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers were granted refugee status in Israel. Those four are all Eritrean; no one from Sudan has been granted refugee status.
In January 2014, the UNHCR estimated that as many as 53,000 refugees were living in Israel. The majority them were from Eritrea (36,000) and Sudan (14,000). These figures are in stark contrast to the number of documented refugees in the country, which the Israeli government revealed on Feb. 16 to be 17,778.
Shockingly, only 45 of the 17,778 applicants for asylum from 2009 to 2015 were granted refugee status. The majority of applications — 68.5 percent — have been denied or withdrawn, while the remaining 31.25 percent have not been answered.
For some perspective, worldwide 56 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers and 84 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers “received refugee status or extended protection in the first half of 2014, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” Ben Norton wrote in a recent piece for Mondoweiss, a progressive Jewish news website based in the United States.
These figures and sentiments fuelling them haven’t gone unnoticed in Israel. A poll conducted in March 2014 revealed that 95 percent of Israeli society believes racism is a problem. Haaretz reported: “Asked which groups of Israelis – if any – experience racism the most, the vast majority, some 79 percent of respondents, answered Israelis of Ethiopian origin. Some 68 percent, meanwhile, said Israeli Arabs, 41.8 percent said Haredi Jews, and 34 percent said Mizrahi Jews and immigrants from the former Soviet Union.”