Row in Israel over ‘unwanted’ Africans

By Tom Tugend, February 20, 2014
Immigrants are being detained in camps, claim campaigners (Photo: AP)

Immigrants are being detained in camps, claim campaigners (Photo: AP)

The Israeli government is under attack over its treatment of 50,000 Africans who have entered the country across the porous border with Egypt.

The brunt of the criticism comes, not from the usual Israel-bashers, but from civil rights advocates, re-enforced last week by an alliance of 14 American organisations representing liberal Jewish constituencies. Originating mainly from the Sudan and Eritrea, the unwanted immigrants say they are seeking asylum from persecution. Almost all who find employment end up in menial jobs while facing the constant threats of deportation or incarceration, critics say.

Some 400 are currently in “open” detention in a camp near Hulot, in the southern Negev. They are allowed to leave for a few hours a day, but can be detained indefinitely while authorities consider their requests to stay.

Leading The American protest is Ameinu, the successor organisation to the American Zionist Alliance, and well-regarded liberal groups at the American Jewish Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

Spokesmen cite both biblical injunctions and international opinion in urging the government to admit them or set up a fairer appeal system.

The government argues that the “illegals” are primarily job seekers, and that their increasing number threatens to dilute the Jewish character of the state. As a counter move, authorities have offered financial inducements to the Africans to self-deport themselves voluntarily.

Last month, thousands of Africans marched in the streets of Tel Aviv with signs and chants protesting at the threats of detention or deportation.

Last updated: 5:45pm, February 20 2014