African refugees in Israel fight for their rights

This video from Israel says about itself:

28 Dec 2013

Occupy Tel Aviv, December 28 – NOW – thousands of Africans and Israeli supporters march in Tel Aviv. Major avenues closed, no violence at all.

By Jean Shaoul:

Mass protests by migrants and asylum seekers in Israel

9 January 2014

Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers marched to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Sunday to protest measures restricting their freedom of movement, ability to work and long delays in processing refugee applications.

About 300 asylum seekers held a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat in the south of the country.

They are demanding official refugee status and an end to the government’s policy of holding them for long periods in the new detention centre at Holot in the Negev.

As well as mounting public protests, asylum seekers began a three-day strike from their work in restaurants, hotels and other workplaces throughout the country.

On Monday, they, along with Israeli supporters, demonstrated outside the embassies and diplomatic offices of the European Union, France, Canada, Sweden, Britain, Germany, Italy, the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. By far the biggest rally of thousands of migrants took place in front of the American embassy in downtown Tel Aviv. They chanted, “We are all refugees” and “Yes to freedom, no to prison!”

The protestors demanded that foreign governments put pressure on Israel to recognise them as refugees, stop arresting them and free those incarcerated. They issued a statement calling on the world “to help us in the face of Israel’s harsh policies against us,” adding, “We will call on the international community to support our struggle against Israel’s violations of basic human rights.”

Last month, 250 migrants left Holot to hold a sit-in in Jerusalem in protest against new rules keeping them in the detention centre for up to a year, leading to the arrest of hundreds of migrants.

Under Israeli law, migrants are forbidden from working until they are registered as asylum seekers. This is all but impossible. Indeed, according to the UN Refugee Agency, while the average national recognition rate of asylum seekers is 39 percent, in Israel, the rate is less than 1 percent. Most of Israel’s asylum seekers are Eritreans and Sudanese, who have an average international recognition rate of 84 percent and 64 percent respectively.

There are about 60,000 African asylum seekers, mostly fleeing civil strife and repression from Eritrea and Sudan, who have crossed Israel’s border with Egypt since 2006. They typically live alongside poor Israelis in Tel Aviv’s impoverished southern suburbs. Many live in crates, shacks and other improvised homes, without access to basic rights and treated by the police as criminals.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the vast majority were “not refugees” but “economic migrants” who had crossed illegally into Israel before the border fence with Egypt was reinforced. The “full weight of the law” would be used to ensure that they did not remain, he said. “No demonstration or strike will help.”

Netanyahu added that 2,600 “infiltrators” had been expelled in 2013, six times more than in 2012, and that this number would in increase in 2014.

Former Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party, who was responsible for the decision to build Holot, said that the scale of the migrants’ protest in Tel Aviv underlined the necessity of strictly enforcing the laws mandating their repatriation, because Tel Aviv had become “an African city.”

New amendments to Israel’s anti-infiltration law passed last month allow the authorities to detain people without a valid visa for up to a year without a judicial hearing. Only those considered war refugees would be allowed to stay.

To this end, Israel established Holot detention centre, the world’s largest, in the Negev desert near Israel’s border with Egypt, to replace the Saharonim prison where migrants were previously held. Three weeks ago, the government transferred 483 African migrants from prisons elsewhere to Holot. Last week, it began instructing other migrants from Eritrea and Sudan to report to Holot within 30 days or face imprisonment.

The Holot detention centre is run by the prison service and designated as an open prison. Detainees are not allowed to work and must report for roll call three times a day. People languish there without work or education, and in violation of the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, to which Israel is a signatory. The convention states that the country a refugee arrives in is responsible for his or her welfare, health and rights. These rights include freedom of movement, access to documents and the right to work.

One Eritrean asked Ha’aretz, “Why are the authorities calling Holot an ‘open prison,’ if it is in the desert, far from any city and run by the prison services…Refugees are calling us from the prisons, crying that they have no freedom. In recent weeks, many refugees have been chased through the streets by Israeli authorities. We’re afraid to leave our homes.”

Many workers face racist discrimination and are brutally exploited by employers. The Ministry of Labour turns a blind eye and the trade unions do nothing. The government initially turned to low paid foreign labour following the 1988 Palestinian intifada, when it restricted the number of labour permits for Palestinians living in the occupied territories. It now has one of the highest proportions of migrant labour in the world, with about 300,000, or 10 percent of the workforce.

According to the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Israel has put pressure on hundreds of jailed migrants to accept payouts and leave. More than a dozen agreed to leave. A study by the End Child Detention Coalition found that 83 percent of detained migrant children and parents exhibit post-traumatic symptoms.

Israel has apparently struck a deal last August with a ‘third country’ where those African migrants whom Israel sees as “illegal infiltrators” would be sent. The country is believed to be Uganda, though the Ugandan government denies any deal. As Uganda has repatriated other refugees to their home country, Israel’s asylum seekers could end up being deported back to the countries from which they fled.

Israel has refused to introduce asylum legislation, because it would mean absorbing tens of thousands of non-Jewish refugees—threatening “the Jewish character of the state” on which Zionist policy is based. According to human rights groups, Israel has recognised less than 200 people as refugees since its establishment in 1948.

To do so would also lead to renewed demands for the right to return of Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were forced from their homes in the wars of 1948 and 1967. All regulations regarding migrant workers and refugees are at the discretion of the minister of the interior.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) representative in Israel issued a rare press release, Israel’s new laws and policies do not live up to the Spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention, criticising Israel and calling on the government to consider alternatives to its current policy of “warehousing” of migrants. The representative, Walpurga Englbrecht, said, “I am particularly disquieted about the purpose of the so-called ‘open’ residence facility in Holot which, in its current form and despite its designation as ‘open,’ would appear to operate as a detention centre from where there is no release…This means in effect indefinite detention.”

Three MKs initiate meeting with representatives of African community, but Knesset speaker denies their entry; Israeli author David Grossman joins the protest and says: ‘I feel embarrassed and ashamed that we have reached this situation’: here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Monday 21st April 2014

NUT Conference: Delegates hear of harsh treatment handed out to black visitors

Two black teachers told yesterday how they were harassed by Israeli security officers who singled them out because of their skin colour.

Bodrul Amin and Caroline Ezzat were in Tel Aviv as part of an official NUT delegation to Palestine when they were separated from colleagues and held for more than two hours by soldiers.

At least 23 Eritreans still detained in Israel, in violation of state policy. One month after being notified of the situation, only one out of the 24 asylum seekers being held in Holot has been released; he had a lawyer: here.

Feeling unwanted and unwelcome, African migrants hit by new tax in Israel: here.

First Israel Deported a Convert From Kenya. Now Birthright Might Cancel an Entire Trip for African Jews. Plan to bring 40 Ugandan converts on an Israel tour is at risk amid fears the participants wouldn’t be allowed in, officials at the Jewish Agency and world Conservative movement say: here.

Report: Israel abuses Thai workers: here.

Thailand / Israel: Civic groups slam Israel over abuse of Thai labours rights: here.

16 thoughts on “African refugees in Israel fight for their rights

  1. Dear friends,

    Thousands of East Africans have been kidnapped by sadistic gangs, and tortured in Egypt’s Sinai until their families pay huge ransoms for their freedom. If we show Egypt’s leaders that this dirty secret is out and damaging the Sinai’s tourism reputation, we can force them to end the horror. Sign now:

    Nine months pregnant and in chains, Haben’s* torturers beat her ruthlessly demanding a $35,000 ransom from her husband. She gave birth in shackles, beside other terrified captives, with only rusty metal to cut the umbilical cord. It’s unbelievable that this is happening in 2014!

    Amazingly Haben survived — but she is one of thousands of East Africans who have been abducted by criminal trafficking rings, and tortured in Egypt’s Sinai until their desperate families pay huge ransoms for their freedom. If we can show Egypt’s leaders that this dirty secret is out and damaging the Sinai’s tourism reputation as the ‘Red Sea Riviera’, they could break the trafficking rings, and free these slaves.

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    Our community has stepped in repeatedly to help those trapped in terrible conditions. Last year, we helped rescue migrant Indian labourers trapped in Bahrain. And we’ve helped provide food and medicine to those trapped in Syria. Now let’s help liberate those being tortured in Egypt.

    With hope and determination,

    Ian, Nick, Ari, Bissan, Alice, Wissam, Ricken and the entire Avaaz team

    *Haben is a pseudonym, but her story is real.


    Egypt/Sudan: Traffickers Who Torture (Human Rights Watch)

    Extortionists, smugglers preying on Eritrean refugees, report says (Globe and Mail)

    Egypt/Sudan: Refugees face kidnapping for ransom, brutal treatment and human trafficking (Amnesty International)

    The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond (EEPA Report)

    Click to access Small_HumanTrafficking-Sinai2-web-3.pdf

    Thousands of Eritreans ‘abducted to Sinai for ransom’ (BBC)

    Egypt’s Sinai: Trafficking, torture and fear (Al Jazeera)

    Human Trafficking Statistics (Polaris Project)

    Click to access human%20trafficking%20statistics.pdf


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