By Melike Ince
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel has recently found itself at the center of an ironic controversy amidst this week’s release of an annual US human rights report. It claims that Israel is denying basic public services to African asylum-seekers.
It has become common practice for Africans escaping persecution to illegally enter Israel through Egypt. While those with official refugee status are provided with health care and work permits, asylum-seekers do not receive either of these services despite their great need for them. The report also mentions that Israeli officials occasionally refer to asylum-seekers as “infiltrators” and associate them with “the rise in crime, disease and terrorism.” Right wing parties have also been known to compare the immigrants’ existence to a cancer in the body of Israel.
Angry Israeli citizens took to the streets in protests and riots this week, attacking Africans and shattering African-run shops to express their frustration over the situation. Many attribute the increased violence in southern Tel Aviv to the Africans. Locals have also accused the immigrants of decreasing employment among nationals and argue that there are insufficient economic resources to provide for the 60,000 illegals currently in Israel. Africans for many years considered Israel to be peaceful and tolerant but now find themselves living in fear.
“I cannot live this way. I’m afraid for my life,” said Amene Tekele Haymanot, an illegal immigrant seeking refugee status.
In an effort to calm the tense population, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence but promised “the infiltration problem must be resolved and we will resolve it.” The government hopes that the security barrier that is currently under construction near the Egyptian border will hinder illegal entry. If it succeeds in doing so, Israel plans to begin the deportation process soon after its completion
Those sympathetic to the Africans’ plight believe that race is playing a role in the conflict, and the irony of the situation is not lost on them. It was not long ago that those of Jewish ancestry were escaping their own persecution in Europe and settling in Israel. In the past year, Israel has received over 4,000 applications for asylum but has approved just one. Though it is considering deportation as one potential solution, international law will likely render Israel unable to send any of the illegals back to their home countries due to the risks of persecution there.
For further information, please see:
CNN News – Why Did Anti-immigration Sentiment Boil Over in Israel? – 31 May 2012
Jerusalem Post – Tel Aviv: Clashes, Arrests at Anti-African Demo – 30 May 2012
Al Jazeera – Should Israel be Responsible for Immigrants? – 29 May 2012
BBC News – Israel Denies African Migrants’ Rights, Says US – 25 May 2012