African migrants’ influx to Israel sparks race riots (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) PATRICK MARTIN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/05/12)
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Unknown attackers set fire in Jerusalem Monday to an apartment
housing Eritrean migrants. No one was killed, two were injured, but
spray-painted on the wall was the threat, “Get out of the
neighbourhood.” It was the latest in a series of sometimes violent
protests against the presence in Israel of a large number of African
Israel is looking at an influx of an estimated 60,000 people from
northeast African countries, most of whom arrived in the country
illegally from Egypt’s Sinai desert. It has been enough of a flood to
trigger ugly race riots by worried citizens, and legislation that
threatens lengthy prison terms to anyone who assists “infiltrators.”
Israelis are hardly alone in expressing xenophobia. Last year, Italy
and France pushed for military action against Libyan leader Moammar
Gadhafi as much to ward off flotillas of refugees as to protect the
Libyan people from their violent dictator.
About 35,000 of the 60,000 asylum-seekers in Israel are from Eritrea
and Sudan, and have been given collective protection from expulsion
by the Israeli government. In the case of Eritreans, the United
Nations has declared they must not be returned to their native
country as their lives will be endangered by the current dictatorial
regime. In the case of the Sudanese, Israel realized that if they
were returned to Sudan – a declared enemy of Israel – the people
could be considered traitors and be imprisoned or executed.
Most of these people have been given renewable visas to live in
Israel but have not been given the right to work nor the benefit of
any social services other than schooling for their children. They
crowd together in cheap housing in low-income communities and work
illegally, usually in restaurants and hotels. The Benjamin Netanyahu
government made it clear it will not punish employers who put any of
the migrants to work.
Another 25,000 Africans are from countries such as Ethiopia and South
Sudan, countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations and whose
lives would not likely be at risk if they were returned. They, too,
have sought asylum and Israel has, to date, assigned few case
officers to consider their claims. Many, but far from a majority,
have been placed in holding tanks in southernmost Israel. The rest
can be found in the tenements of South Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
That’s where Israel’s cultural crisis is most acute: Israelis who
encounter the visible minority spilling into local parks and crowding
round the bus station have become unsettled, uncomfortable both with
the migrants’ restlessness and concerned that their non-Jewish
presence could become permanent.
At a time of economic stress and with great demands being made on the
country’s housing and health facilities, the question arises whether
Israel can afford the addition of so many needy people.
After months of unease, things turned violent recently when a young
Jewish woman was raped in Tel Aviv, allegedly by a group of African
refugees. Riots erupted in the neighbourhood, which had seen a large
increase in the African population, and many Israelis demanded the
asylum-seekers be removed.
“The Sudanese are a cancer in our body,” Likud member of parliament
Miri Regev declared before a veritable mob of hundreds of Tel Aviv
protesters two weeks ago. “We will do everything to send them back
where they came from.”
Such rhetoric took immediate effect. The crowd proceeded to smash
windows and loot stores; they beat up Sudanese people they
encountered, threw firecrackers at police horses and chased activists
“The people want to expel the Sudanese,” they shouted.
Some accuse the African migrants of causing a rise in crime. Israeli
media quoted an unnamed police official saying “asylum-seekers are
involved in some 40 per cent of the crimes committed in the Tel Aviv
area.” The notion went viral.
Days later, however, Gilad Natan of the Knesset´s Research and
Information Center said there was no basis for such a statement. Less
than 1 per cent of criminal files opened by police in Tel Aviv in
2010 were against Africans, he said. And, last year, nationwide,
slightly more than half of 1 per cent of criminal-court cases or
extensions of remand were against foreigners of any description.
Nevertheless, responding to public pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu
ordered Sunday that the deportation of the 25,000 asylum-seekers from
Ethiopia and South Sudan be expedited and that holding facilities for
the 35,000 other African migrants currently in South Tel Aviv and
elsewhere be built in the Negev desert as quickly as possible. (©
Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. 06/05/12)
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