How Is­rael deals with its own refugee dilemma

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

WHEN NIGHT falls and most of the green spa­ces in Tel Aviv empty out, Lewin­sky Park fills up. Men stand or sit around, some of them in cir­cles, smok­ing and chat­ting. They talk mostly in Ti­grinya and Ara­bic.

Lewin­sky Park is the un­of­fi­cial com­mu­nity cen­tre of the thou­sands of Eritre­ans and Su­danese who have ended up in Tel Aviv.

The sur­round­ing dis­trict is packed with homes sub­di­vided into units so small that show­ers sit above toi­lets. The homes were built to house some of the thou­sands of Africans who have crossed the Egyp­tian border since 2005.

The shops i n t he a r e a have changed, c a t e r i ng t o African tastes and pock­ets. A large num­ber of Jewish resid e n t s h a v e moved out; oth­ers have stayed and many have be­come an­gry at the changes around them. “Ex­pul­sion now” read ban­ners at a demonstration in Au­gust.

On the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal right, some are keen to raise con­cerns about the im­pact of the il­le­gal im­mi­grants — in some cases a lit­tle too keen. Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ayelet Shaked re­cently posted on Face­book a video she thought was of Africans ri­ot­ing in Tel Aviv, but then took it down when she re­alised that the footage was filmed in Tur­key.

The con­cerns of Ms Shaked and oth- ers on the right over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion may be se­ri­ous, but anti-mi­grant sen­ti­ment is far less in­tense than it was three years ago, when the is­sue was at the fore­front of the news agenda. There was na­tional out­rage over a wave of crime com­mit­ted by il­le­gal im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing sev­eral sex at­tacks.

The po­lice chief of the day, Yo­hanan Danino, went to south Tel Aviv and said of il­le­gal African im­mi­grants: “Ev­ery time I come here, I see the num­bers grow­ing. “They have caused the surge in crime.”

The sit­u­a­tion calmed down af­ter it ap­peared that the sex­ual as­saults were lim­ited to a small group of at­tack­ers.

There have been re­cent at­tempts by mi­grants to cross the Egypt border into Is­rael and, just this week, Egyp­tian forces re­port­edly shot and killed 15 peo­ple try­ing to make the cross­ing. How­ever, the com­ple­tion of a border fence last year has largely stopped the flow.

In 2012, when ev­ery­one was talk­ing about the African mi­grants, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said: “If we don’t stop them, the prob­lem that cur­rently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threat­ens our ex­is­tence as a Jewish and demo­cratic state.” He said the is­sue “threat­ens the so­cial fab­ric of so­ci­ety, our na­tional se­cu­rity and na­tional iden­tity”.

The fence, in­sti­gated by him, en­sured that il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion never grew to the pro­por­tions he claimed to be wor­ried about. To­day there are ac­tu­ally fewer il­le­gal mi­grants — around 43,000 — than he said there were then.

How did that hap­pen? Mr Ne­tanyahu’s orig­i­nal fig­ure ap­peared to have been an over­es­ti­mate.

But also, the gov­ern­ment set up a con­tro­ver­sial ini­tia­tive whereby peo­ple are of­fered big cash in­cen­tives to leave Is­rael. Those who agree re­ceive $3,500 (£2,300) and trans­port to ei­ther their coun­try of ori­gin or, if re­turn home is deemed risky, to an­other coun­try — nor­mally Uganda or Rwanda. Around 11,000 peo­ple have left Is­rael through this pro­gramme, with 8,000 head­ing h o me a n d 3,000 go-ing t o a n o t h e r coun­try.

T h i s a l l seems l og­i­cal to most Is­raelis, says Sam LehmanWilzig, a pro­fes­sor at Bar Ilan Univer­sity who closely fol­lows the sub­ject. “Most Is­raelis are will­ing to go along with it,” he said. “It’s not sym­pa­thetic to send them back but we have ma­jor prob­lems our­selves.” How­ever, or­gan­i­sa­tions that lobby on be­half of il­le­gal im­mi­grants are fu­ri­ous.

It is de­scribed as a vol­un­tary de­par­ture pro­gramme, but the state is now sum­mon­ing Eritre­ans (four-fifths of the Africans are Eritre­ans) and giv­ing them the choice be­tween the de­par­ture pro­gramme or in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion.

“It can­not be vol­un­tary when a per-

Is­rael has ap­proved en­try to 9,000 Ethiopi­ans claim­ing to be of Jewish de­scent, two years af­ter bring­ing what it said was the fi­nal air­lift of Ethiopi­ans to Is­rael, ac­cord­ing to JTA.

On Sun­day the Cab­i­net voted unan­i­mously to bring the Ethiopi­ans, known as Falash Mura, to Is­rael over the next five years.

Falash Mura claim links to de­scen­dants of Jews who con­verted to Chris­tian­ity gen­er­a­tions ago but who now seek to re­turn to Ju­daism and to Is­rael. Their per­ma­nent en­try into Is­rael will de­pend on com­plet­ing the con­ver­sion process.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said the de­ci­sion to bring in the last Ethiopi­ans in Ad­dis Ababa and Gonda was an “im­por­tant step [that] will en­able the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Ethiopian fam­i­lies”. son is told, ‘If you don’t leave you will face in­def­i­nite time in prison,’” said ac­tivist Si­gal Rozen. She also ar­gued that some of those who have left Is­rael have found them­selves un­safe in their new sur­round­ings, prompt­ing some to move again — in­clud­ing to Europe. Her or­gan­i­sa­tion chal­lenged the state’s pol­icy in a court hear­ing last week, but the court up­held the pol­icy and ac­cepted the state’s as­sur­ance peo­ple would be taken to safe sur­round­ings.

As for those who re­main, the state is up­ping pres­sure on em­ploy­ers not to hire il­le­gal mi­grants, and sum­mon­ing larger num­bers to the big de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties in the Negev desert. Un­like the Eritre­ans, the Su­danese — who ac­count for al­most all of the rest of the il­le­gal mi­grants — are freed from de­ten­tion af­ter a year, even if they refuse de­par­ture, but with a new con­di­tion: upon release they must agree to stay away from Tel Aviv and Ei­lat, where they go for com­mu­nity and job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

For Mr Ne­tanyahu, th­ese poli­cies are the only way; as he put it in Septem­ber, “Is­rael is a small coun­try, which lacks de­mo­graphic and ge­o­graphic depth”.

Ms Rozen coun­ters: “They were talk­ing about mil­lions be­ing on the way but now they are not com­ing. This now is a num­ber that Is­rael can deal with.”

Amin­is­ter post­edTel Avivriot videos,un­til­she re­alisedthey were­inTurkey Athreat toour so­cial fab­ric, our na­tional iden­tityand se­cu­rity


Ethiopian Jews take part in a mass prayer of the Sigd hol­i­day in Jerusalem

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