UN Insists Israel Admit Black Africans Trapped On Border, As Illegal Immigration Crisis Deepens

 @MayaErgas
on September 06 2012 2:46 PM
African immigrants in Israel
Children cross the street as residents of south Tel Aviv carry Israeli flags during a protest against African migrants living in their neighbourhoods on May 30, 2012. Reuters

Israel, the promised land of the "chosen people," doesn't want Africans.

On Thursday morning, Israel sent back 18 Eritreans who had been stuck on the border between Egypt and Israel for eight days. They did allow three people -- two women and a 14-year-old boy - to cross into Israel.

The Eritreans were attempting to cross illegally into Israel. In response, Israeli police even prevented physicians from providing aid to the migrants, according to Haaretz.

This incident is the latest what has been a long summer of anti-immigration protests, counter-protests, and controversy in Israel over the status of African immigrants. The New Jersey-sized country with a population of 8 million has received a surge of around 60,000 immigrants from all over Africa in the past year, with another 700 coming in every week.

According to the Israeli Defense Force, as of 2008, most of the illegal immigrants were coming from Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, and Nigeria. About 85 percent of the immigrants are male.

The Egypt-Israel fence is one of the most popular entry points into Israel for these migrants. Israel is not legally allowed to deport anyone from Eritrea, Sudan, or Somalia, because their lives would be at stake upon returning home, due to the instability in those countries.

However on Wednesday, the Israeli government also said they had no legal obligation to allow the Eritreans in question into the country, despite the UN's High Commission for Refugees urging Israel to accept them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a conference on May 29th that African migrants are "a national security threat, endangering the country's Jewish majority," the Economist reported.

Israel is a very Jewish- and ethno-centric country. Netanyahu called for the construction of a steel wall along the Egyptian border; otherwise Israel would be "swamped by a continent look for work."

The illegal immigrants are also blamed for increased levels in crime in the neighborhoods where they live. A law passed around the same time said that any immigrants caught without documents by the authorities could face a three-year jail sentence.

In early June, protests erupted all over Tel Aviv, with more than a thousand people holding signs reading "This is not Africa," "Blacks out," and "Stop talking, start expelling!"

In response, leftist groups started counter-protests, but anti-immigrant sentiment runs high, partly out of fear that many of the migrants might be informants for terrorist groups.

Africans who live in Israel, including Ethiopian Jews who were brought to Israel in the 1980s and1990s and now compromise a population of 120,000, are also facing harsh discrimination. African-owned shops are often targets of threats and violence.

In June, The Independent reported that an Eritrean woman was threatened by two men with a knife.  During one protest, a black boy was pulled from his bike by a group of 10 or 15 boys and beaten up, according to the Telegraph.

The irony of a country started by refugees fleeing genocide refusing to accept economic refugees themselves is not lost. Yohannes Bayu, an Ethiopian who run's Israel's only refugee shelter told the Economist "How can a country founded by refugees turn against them?"

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