Article author: Isabel Jess
Israel at one time identified as a land of refugees, especially as a refuge to the Jewish people who
had been expelled from numerous societies and had faced violent persecution for close to a
millenia. Yet, under the Netanyahu administration, that identity has shifted. Beginning in
January, it was announced that the Israeli government would be seeking options to deport its
African migrant population to the nations of their origins. Numbering from 35,000 to 40,000,
these migrants come mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, both East African nations facing drastic
internal crises stemming from the effects of civil war and climate change.
From January to late March, Eritrean and Sudanese migrants were faced with two options: take
$3,500 and a one-way ticket back to their country of their origin or other third-party countries in
Africa or be forcibly removed. One of the many dangers with these options, however, is that
when deported, migrants are in essence “dropped off” and left with no support; this can often
leave them exposed to various forms of violence such as human trafficking.
The proposal was ultimately faced with a wave of backlash, including a series of fierce criticisms
from a range of figures including former ambassadors and Holocaust survivors, and a petition
with 120 signatures from refugees and asylum seekers currently residing in Israel. In March, a
ruling by the Israeli High Court officially struck down the proposal, giving the Israeli
government until March 26th to respond to the claims argued by those opposed to the
deportations. Subsequently, the Israeli government developed a new proposal involving a five
year plan with the support of the United Nations that stated that for each migrant settled
“overseas” in Western countries – such as Germany, Italy, and Canada – “temporary residence”
would be given to a migrant in Israel. Under this proposition, 16,250 migrants would be given
asylum abroad. Yet, after deliberation, the short-term solution was abandoned by the Israel
government due to, according to the Netanyahu administration, an apparent lack of commitment
from other nations; however, the explicit reasons as to why the solution was abandoned still
ultimately remain unclear.
Recently, the Israeli government finally agreed to drop its plans to forcibly remove its migrant
population. The decision comes after negotiations with Uganda, which had tentatively expressed
a willingness to accept 500 migrants, reportedly “took too long”. Focus has since turned towards
other African nations such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia in an effort to pursue
methods of voluntary deportation. Yet, despite a shift away from methods of forced expulsion,
the attitudes of the current Israeli government towards immigration, as reflected by their recent
actions, remain a controversial topic of discussion within the international community.
After all, Israel has often categorized itself as a land of refuge. For example, in 1977, Israel
accepted roughly 400 Vietnamese refugees fleeing the terrors of the Communist takeover in
Vietnam. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin poignantly remarked,“We remembered, we
never have forgotten, the boat with 900 Jews having left Germany in the last weeks before World
War II…traveling from harbor to harbor, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They
were refused…Therefore, it was natural that my first act as prime minister was to give those
people a haven in the Land of Israel”. When juxtaposed with the recent actions of the current
Israeli government, this mentality of Israel as a place of asylum appears to have been all but
abandoned, or rather, reserved for the few.
This mentality of exclusion is ultimately reinforced by the Israeli perception of African migrants
as simply “job seekers” and “infiltrators”; such a perspective ultimately neglects the reality from
which Eritreans and Sudanese migrants are fleeing. Furthermore, it reflects the xenophobic ideals
that have become so pervasive in current international politics.
While Israel seems to have shifted away from a more violent method of immigration control for the immediate future, it is not enough to simply allow migrants to remain within the state. In order to take steps towards providing genuine support to the migrant populations within Israel, the Israeli government must also make policy changes regarding the categorization of asylum seekers and migrants. Under current policy, migrants hold a temporary permit that must be renewed every 60 days. Yet, this policy doesn’t allow them the flexibility and security of work permits, residency, or benefits. One solution might be to implement a categorization similar to a Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which provides work opportunities and access to state benefits on a conditional basis. Whether or not the current administration would ever pursue such developments for the benefit of migrant populations, however, remains another issue for further consideration.
Yaron, Lee, and Noa Landau. “Israel Reaches Deal with UN to Deport Asylum Seekers to West, Not Africa.” Haaretz.com , 2 Apr. 2018, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-cancels-forced-asylum-seeker-deportations-after-deal-with-un-1.597 3475.
Bahar, Dany. “How Should Israel Address African Refugees?” Brookings , Brookings, 6 Apr. 2018, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/04/06/how-should-israel-address-african-refugees/.
“Israel Scraps Plan to Forcibly Deport African Migrants.” BBC News , BBC, 24 Apr. 2018, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43879800 .
“Opinion | Israel’s Got Its Own Refugee Dilemma: African ‘Dreamers’.” The New York Times , The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/opinion/israel-refugees-african-dreamers.html
Photograph: Afrika News