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Migrants in Israel receive less than a warm welcome

On December 6, 2011

On November 25, Eritreans protested in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, expressing their discontent with the plight of African migrants in Israel. From their journey through their settlement in Israel, asylum seekers fleeing oppressive regimes face physical harm and discrimination from both the Israeli government and its citizens.

Detainment camps are spread throughout the Sinai, run by Israeli and Egyptian criminals who abduct asylum seekers and hold them for ransom. Inside these prisons, migrants are subject to torture and rape until, and unless, family or friends come to their rescue. Despite accounts detailing human trafficking and even identifying the actual criminals involved, no persons have been prosecuted by either Egyptian or Israeli authorities.

Those who manage to leave the camps alive do not find the refuge they sought in Israel. Over 27,000 asylum seekers live with the uncertainty of the government’s next move - to date, Israel, which has no defined set of asylum law, has only recognized 200 refugees. The nation is a signatory to the Convention on the Status of Refugees, but rather than comply with its own commitments, the Knesset is implementing incredulous detention laws that criminalize refugees; last November, the government approved a detention center with a 10,00 person capacity to hold migrants until their deportation. Currently, the Knesset is determining penalties for asylum seekers that include a minimum three year prison term, as well as a five year term for accomplices.

Tel Aviv’s mayor argues that illegal migrants are coming for work rather than asylum, and holds them responsible for many of Israel’s economic woes. Employment is inherently connected to the asylum process, but such entangled intentions do not justify the illegal and xenophobic reactions the Israeli government parades brashly and without shame: Prime Minister Netanyahu believes the proposed measures are essential to protecting the “character and future” of Israel. Netanyahu further referred to refugees as a “threat to economy, society, security, and demographic fabric” of Israel. The rhetoric includes economic references, but primarily emphasizes the difficulty in their “absorption,” as asylum seekers are so underhandedly “changing the face of entire neighborhoods.”

While nations are empowered to confront illegal migration, Israel's crude solutions ignore the victims of human trafficking and violate international refugee law. It is little wonder that the government has failed to crack down on Israeli involvement in Sinai’s prisons camps, when its own detention facilities will similarly flout human rights. The attorney for the Anu Plitim (‘We are Refugees’) NGO reminds Israel that it “is itself a nation of refugees and survivors.”