Israel may claim to be a welcoming place, but when it comes to African migrants, those claims couldn’t be further from the truth.
After a long debate regarding the status of about 40,000 African migrants living in Israel, the country’s government came up with a plan that calls for the imprisonment of any African migrant who does not have a refugee application pending and who still refuses to leave.
According to Israel’s Interior Minister Arye Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, migrants will only have two options: to leave voluntarily or go to prison. But to many of these migrants, leaving is not an option, as they are not safe in the countries from which they came.
Fleeing war and persecution, many of these migrants came from Eritrea and Sudan. Due to economic hardship, many of them ended up going to Israel, but as many are not allowed to stay legally, they are also not allowed to seek employment. Without any money, finding a place to go is nearly impossible.
In order to help migrants by pressuring Israel to rethink its plan to threaten them with imprisonment, groups such as Amnesty International Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Center for Refugees and Migrants decided to write a letter telling the Israeli government to stop expelling migrants. The letter follows reports showing that the country will send migrants who agree to “self-deport” to Rwanda.
“Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees,” the letter stated. “Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking.”
This claim is backed by an investigation carried out by the nongovernmental organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants that found that migrants who had left Israel for Rwanda were at greater risk of violence, extortion, and imprisonment.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has recently reminded Israel of its “painful history of migration and exile” and that refugees leave their countries precisely because they do not have a choice.
While we hope that calls for a policy change will have the desired effect, the Israeli government seems unlikely to change its mind at this point as it has ignored calls for better treatment of African migrants for years.