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Africans In Israel: Immigration Issue or Human Rights Disaster?

At Slate, Emily Bazelon recently explored the rarely-discussed issue of African immigrants in Israel, noting that PM Ehud Olmert has complained about how many Africans sneak into Israel every year—a situation that raises issues of immigration, religion, economics, and infrastructure. … Read More

By / May 9, 2008

At Slate, Emily Bazelon recently explored the rarely-discussed issue of African immigrants in Israel, noting that PM Ehud Olmert has complained about how many Africans sneak into Israel every year—a situation that raises issues of immigration, religion, economics, and infrastructure. These Africans are Christians and Muslims, which means they’re not eligible for Israeli citizenship, but Israel won’t extradite them back to their home countries because of their potential persecution for being affiliated with a Jewish State.

Many are sent to detention centers, where they languish doing manual labor in poor conditions, and others are sent to Tel Aviv, where they end up living near the bus station, in slumlike conditions that may be worse than the refugee camps they’ve fled in Africa.

Of course, this is nothing new: We previously posted about Darfurian refugees who were imprisoned when they arrived in Israel, because Sudan is technically an Arab country. After sneaking in via Egypt, they were kept on army bases, or put under house arrest on kibbutzim in the North while the Israeli government tried to figure out where to send them.

We also let you know when, more than a year later, 600 Darfurian refugees were granted temporary residency, and 2,000 illegal immigrants from Eritrea were granted work permits when it was made clear that their lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Eritrea.

I initially heard about this problem firsthand when an Israeli friend, who recently returned from his reserve duty in the Sinai desert, told me about the time he spent guarding the border with Egypt. He said some nights they caught as many as fourteen Africans in twelve hours, all trying to sneak into Israel. From Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Ivory Coast, many of them sought out the Israeli soldiers, who “arrested” them, which entails having them checked out by doctors, given food, and sent to detention centers. In search of safety and well-paying jobs, hundreds of Africans attempt to cross into Israel via Sinai every year.

According to my friend, many are killed by guards on the Egyptian side of the border.

Israel likes to brag about reaching out to other communities in need after natural disasters and taking in Vietnamese boat people, but ultimately, Israel can’t and shouldn’t be the place that the huddled masses of the world turn to for good jobs and opportunities. I’m not one of those people who constantly worries about the survival of the Jewish State, and I’m not suggesting that illegal African refugees are somehow going to take over the country, but I’m not sure the current policy does enough to deter Africans from risking their lives and illegally entering a country that already has its proverbial plate-full of problems. Of course, those who make it in shouldn’t just be shipped back to their homes countries—that accomplishes little, and is inevitably expensive and politically problematic. Instead there should be a more organized policy for dealing with the border and, if necessary, Israel can grant more temporary work visas to bring African workers in legally, for a limited amount of time.

Wait a second. Did I just join the Republican party?

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