Batya Ungar-Sargon explains why 10,000 African migrants have taken to the streets in Israel this week:
The protestors, representing Israel’s estimated 55,000 African migrants, are protesting their treatment by Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, whose policies don’t recognize migrants from Eritrea and Sudan as refugees – instead designating them “infiltrators” – which has led to the detention of nearly 2,500 refugees in the Saharonim and Ketziot internment camps. That number is about to increase, the result of a new detention policy and the establishment of an “open” internment facility at which African migrants will have to check in three times a day. The protests also coincide with increased arrests among this population, who are required to renew their visas every one to three months. …
After a Supreme Court ruling in September deemed the three-year mandatory incarceration of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in these camps to be in violation of Israeli human rights law, the Ministry of the Interior delayed releasing the incarcerated migrants, while passing new legislation which swapped three-year internment in closed internment facilities to indefinite internment in open internment facilities, says Tally Amir, professor of law at the College of Law and Business in B’nei Brak. “The focus of the protest is the violation of the refugee convention with the mass detention in Saharonim and in the open facility.”
For people who have lived for years on the margins of Israeli society, this week’s protests and strike mark an unusually public move. Since 2006, 53,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Israel, according to official figures; the vast majority of them – from Eritrea and Sudan, including from Darfur – trekked by foot for days across the Sinai desert. In 2012, some ten thousand African refugees crossed the once-permeable border from Egypt, before Israel erected a four-hundred-million-dollar fence, replete with cameras and sensors. The fence did the job: in 2013, only thirty-six refugees managed to find their way into the country. (That other refugees are now largely left to the mercy of the Egyptian border police, who have a history of gunning down asylum seekers, went largely unremarked.)
Fifty thousand out of a country of 8 million seems like a negligible number. But the problem, the government argues, is that the migrants, many of whom have been given a “conditional release” that does not include the right to work while their cases are pending, have taken over large swaths of working-class neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and seized jobs that could have otherwise gone to Israelis. That these jobs often pay less than the minimum wage, and that they used to be held primarily by Palestinians, is, apparently, beside the point.
Previous Dish on Israeli backlash against African immigrants here.
(Photo: Thousands of African asylum seekers demanding to be recognized as refugees rally outside the Israel’s parliament Knesset on January 8, 2014. By Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)