Un­wel­come, African refugees dream of home

The Jakarta Post - - WORLD - Stephen Weiz­man

Tens of thou­sands of Africans who fled mis­ery at home for safety in Is­rael are liv­ing in limbo, fear­ing de­por­ta­tion though some have lived in the coun­try for more than a decade.

Rec­og­niz­ing a ris­ing tide of dis­con­tent among Is­raelis over the mi­grants’ pres­ence in south Tel Aviv, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu re­cently vis­ited the area.

He posed for TV cam­eras with an el­derly woman who said she was afraid to leave her apart­ment at night for fear of her African neigh­bors.

“We will re­turn south Tel Aviv to the cit­i­zens of Is­rael,” Ne­tanyahu pledged, adding that the Africans were “not refugees but il­le­gal in­fil­tra­tors.”

Adi Drori-Avra­ham, of the Aid Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Refugees and Asy­lum Seek­ers in Is­rael (AS­SAF), says that although they orig­i­nally crossed the bor­der “ir­reg­u­larly,” they have since been is­sued short­term res­i­dence visas.

“They’re not il­le­gal be­cause they go ev­ery two months and they get a visa from the min­istry of the in­te­rior,” she said.

“They’re here and they work and they pay taxes. They’re not il­le­gal.”

Is­raeli gov­ern­ment fig­ures from June 30 show a to­tal of 38,043 African mi­grants in the coun­try. They in­clude 27,494 Eritre­ans and 7,869 Su­danese.

A 2016 UN com­mis­sion of in­quiry into Eritrea’s harsh regime found “wide­spread and sys­tem­atic” crimes against hu­man­ity and said an es­ti­mated 5,000 peo­ple flee the coun­try each month.

The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court has in­dicted Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against hu­man­ity and geno­cide re­lated to his regime’s coun­terin­sur­gency tac­tics in the 14-yearold con­flict in Dar­fur.

Drori-Avra­ham says that among those seek­ing asy­lum in Is­rael are “thou­sands” from Dar­fur whose ap­pli­ca­tions have yet to re­ceive an an­swer.

“Some of them have been wait­ing for years,” she said.

Be­yond want­ing to be seen as re­spond­ing to res­i­dents’ com­plaints, the gov­ern­ment is also con­cerned with main­tain­ing Is­rael’s Jewish char­ac­ter.

Only Jews or those with Jewish fam­i­lies are al­lowed to im­mi­grate.

Thou­sands of the mi­grants have since been re­moved — vol­un­tar­ily ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, un­der duress ac­cord­ing to the AS­SAF.

Over the years, those caught at the Egyp­tian fron­tier were de­tained at pris­ons in the Negev desert in south­ern Is­rael.

On re­lease they were given bus tick­ets to Tel Aviv, ar­riv­ing at the cen­tral bus sta­tion on the south side of the city.

Many stayed in the sur­round­ing Neve Shaanan niegh­bor­hood, long rife with pros­ti­tu­tion and crime.

Rents there are low and land­lords are not choosy about ten­ants.

“The rea­son we are here is that this is the only area we know. We didn’t choose it,” said Ts­ga­hans Goy­tiom, a 30-year-old Eritrean known in the niegh­bor­hood as Johnny.

“No Is­raeli wants to be here in this niegh­bor­hood.”

AFP/Me­na­hem/Ka­hana

Re­jected: African mi­grant Ts­ga­hans “Johnny” Goy­tiom, 30, poses dur­ing an in­ter­view with an AFP jour­nal­ist on Neve Shaanan Street in south­ern Tel Aviv on Sept. 5.

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