Unwelcome, African refugees dream of home
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.”
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.