World News‎ > ‎

Aid group says African migrant situation in Israel a "ticking bomb"

posted 7 Jun 2012, 05:08 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 7 Jun 2012, 05:09 ]

A refugee aid group in Israel says the African migrant situation is a "ticking bomb". Fleeing poverty, armed conflicts and authoritarian rule, some 60,000 Africans have crossed illegally into Israel through the relatively porous desert border with Egypt in recent years.

The wall of an apartment building that housed Eritrean migrants in Jerusalem carries a spray-painted message -- "get out of the neighbourhood". Israeli arsonists set fire to the premises on Monday (June 04), the latest incident in a flare-up of violence against African migrants.
A police spokesman said that two people were lightly injured from smoke inhalation and called the blaze in a Jewish neighbourhood of Jerusalem, deliberate, adding that a special investigation team has been set up.

After the fire was put out, an argument broke out between local residents and high school students who came to protest against the violence.

A resident living near the burnt apartment said African migrants are being abused by employers and landlords, but at the same time pose a nuisance and threat to the residents of the neighbourhood.

Young Israeli students who came to the site to protest, argued that acts of violence are not acceptable.

"We don't agree for human beings to treat other human beings this way. We're all human beings, and if something is wrong here then we will deal with it humanely and not in a violent and disgusting way that treats human beings as if they were inferior to us," said Inbar, a high school student at the protest.

Fleeing poverty, fighting and authoritarian rule, some 60,000 Africans mostly from South Sudan and Eritrea, have crossed illegally into Israel through the relatively porous desert border with Egypt in recent years.

Street violence has surged in recent months against the migrants, including another rampage 10 days ago in a low-income Tel Aviv neighbourhood where many migrants, from Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, live.

"It was very very big violent, big demonstration. If they see you are a black man, you know African any African, they are starting beating people even my neighbour. They beat my neighbour so bad," said Simon Steven, a migrant from Sudan who has lived in Israel for 16 years.

"The foreigners people they come to take their places either way they are saying... it is my country you need to go back to you country, it is not Africa you know all this situation is like you know there is no law for in immigrant here as you know. If the government one day make law for everything, all this violence will not be," Steven said.

Orit Marom from "Assaf" refugee aid organisation, said the violence is a direct result of incitement by political figures in Israel.

"In recent weeks, we are really witnessing increasingly violent incidents, harassment against refugees and foreigners in general, especially African. In Israel, in our opinion in "Assaf", we have no doubt that this violence is a product of incitement that we are hearing recently, by politicians, among them senior politicians, such as the Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who are simply giving a green light to violence," said Marom.

Israel says most come seeking work rather than refuge, but this has been challenged by U.N. humanitarian agencies and civil rights groups, making deportation legally problematic.

Marom urged the government to review the migrants' status and find a solution.

"Israel must examine the requests for asylum, determine who is a refugee and who is not, give a status to asylum seekers and provide the opportunity for people to work, their right to exist with respect because otherwise, just as the residents of the neighbourhoods are saying, there is a ticking bomb," said Marom.

"There are tens of thousands of people without work permits, without rights, without right to medical care, without rights for welfare and this not only harms the Africans themselves, the asylum seekers and the migrants, it also harms the Israeli society and Israel's economy."

An Israeli court upheld on Thursday (June 07) the planned deportation of South Sudanese deemed to have entered Israel illegally, rejecting a petition by human rights groups that had delayed the Interior Ministry's April 1 deportation order.

The Jerusalem District Court ruled the state was not obligated to extend de facto asylum to the estimated 1,500 migrants from South Sudan.

Emanuel Yamini, a migrant from Eritrea residing in Israel for almost four years, called the recent anti-African sentiment, racism.

"We are not in 1800's 1700's, we are in 2012, the world has progressed and people are talking about a person's color? Seriously, all this talk is racism," Yamini said.

The influx has jarred the Jewish state, with its already ethnically fraught citizen population of 7.8 million. Some Israelis warn of a gathering demographic and economic crisis while others say a country born after the Holocaust has a special responsibility to offer foreigners sanctuary.

"I am in favour of them going wherever they need to go. The country is a Jewish state and is meant only for Jews. I am not a racist, nor anti-Semitic, nothing. But the mix here will not bring about good results. We saw yesterday what happened in Jerusalem and it will begin to spill over, it will spill over... southern Tel Aviv is on the verge of explosion," said Michel Ben Yair.

Last week, police said 20 people were arrested for assault and vandalism during a rally against the foreign influx in a Tel Aviv tenement .

Trash cans were set alight, storefront windows were broken and a crowd attacked an African driving through the area, breaking his car's windows. No serious injuries were reported.

Eleven minors were charged with a string of racially-motivated attacks against Africans in Tel Aviv.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the migrant issue is not new but is making headlines due to recent incidents.

"It is not dealt with until it blows up. The problem is known for many years but what we have seen, the wave of lashing out and harsh words in the past month is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done and the foreign ministry is exerting major efforts to reach understandings with those countries, the source countries," Lieberman told a conference in Eilat, in southern Israel.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai who spoke in parliament last week, said the growing community of Sudanese and Eritrean border-jumpers were a crime risk jeopardizing the Jewish state and vowed to find a solution.

"If I am given all the means and I'm working to get all the means and it's not easy. If I will be given all the means without exception, in less than a year, there will not be even one infiltrator left in the land of Israel," he said.

On Sunday (June 3), a law went into effect that will allow Israeli authorities to jail illegal immigrants for up to three years. The measure has been denounced by liberal politicians and human rights activists.

Israel Radio quoted Interior Minister Yishai as saying he hoped Thursday's ruling would be "the first in a series of measures that would allow for the deportation of all citizens of Eritrea and north Sudan".