The ongoing controversy over Israel’s treatment of African immigrants came to the streets of London as more than 100 Eritrean refugees protested outside the Israeli embassy.
Thousands of young men flee every year to escape compulsory national service and the ruling régime. Human trafficking, arms smuggling, rape, murder and electrocution are among the risks they face as they travel from Eritrea through Sudan and the Sinai desert in an effort to cross into Israel.
Last Friday’s protest, organised by Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change and Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea, was in response to Israeli plans for a large detention centre for African immigrants, near the Egyptian border.
There was a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv earlier this summer, and Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai waged a war of words on African immigrants, blaming them for spreading disease and crime and threatening to fine local authorities which employ illegal immigrants.
Protesters in London also delivered a petition, signed by more than 2,300 people, to Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub. It raised the issue of “alarming increases in the discriminatory treatment of Eritrean refugees in Israel”.
The petition stated: “Such senseless hate, fuelled in part by right-wing politicians, has led to Eritreans being attacked on the street and in their homes. Eritreans today are living in a general climate of fear in Israel.”
Hermon Yohannes of the EYSC said: “This emergency protest was in response to the imminent building of the detention centre and Eli Yishai’s calls for Sudanese refugees to be rounded up in Israel, and for Eritreans to be next.
“We wanted to highlight what appears to be inhumane treatment. Israel has an obligation to follow the Refugee Convention and we urge it to uphold international standards.”
An Israeli embassy spokesman said the partially-constructed centre was being used “to facilitate eligibility for refugee status and to provide a venue where illegal migrants can reside, with all humanitarian requirements, until they can be repatriated”.
The spokesman added: “The ongoing flow of illegal migrants, be it to Israel or any other country, is not sustainable and will bring no real benefit to anyone. Unlike a number of European countries which have a policy of forced repatriation, Israel has a policy that illegal migrants are only repatriated with the agreement and co-operation of their home countries, something which we do not currently have with Eritrea.”