Israel begins rounding up African migrants (AP) Associated Press) By JOSEF FEDERMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/11/12 12:05 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israeli authorities detained dozens of African migrants
in predawn raids early Monday, in the first major step toward what
leaders say will be deportation of 4,500 people who have entered the
The arrests were the harshest move yet against migrants, reflecting
growing concern about the effect on Israel of tens of thousands of
Africans who have sneaked into the country across the porous Egyptian
border in recent years.
Israeli leaders have grown increasingly alarmed by the influx,
calling it a burden and threat to the country´s Jewish character.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said 55 people, including
45 from South Sudan, were rounded up in Monday´s raids, which took
place in several towns across the country. More raids were planned in
the coming days, she said.
In the Red Sea tourist town of Eilat, Channel 10 TV showed images of
migrants quietly piling suitcases and belonging in the back of a
police truck before being driven away.
The crackdown came in the wake of a landmark court decision last week
that cleared the way for the expulsion of 4,500 migrants. The order
applies only to people who come from nations that have friendly
relations with Israel, mostly from the newly established state of
These people, however, represent only a small percentage of the
estimated 60,000 Africans now in Israel. Some claim asylum, while
others are simply looking for work in a relatively prosperous country.
Because many are from Sudan, an enemy of Israel, and Eritrea, a
country with a flawed human rights record, the line between refugees
and economic migrants is blurred. Therefore, Israel has quietly
allowed most migrants from those two countries to stay without
processing their asylum applications.
The continued arrival of the Africans, and the legal uncertainty,
have spurred action. Israel is racing to build a fence along its
Egyptian border to halt the influx, and it has begun work on a huge
detention center in its southern desert. The government has begun
imposing penalties on businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants,
and this week, it announced that in addition to the detention center,
it plans to build a tent city to hold 20,000 new arrivals.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who oversees immigration policy, told
Army Radio that the first group of South Sudanese, about 100 people,
will be sent home next week.
"We, the Jewish people, are sensitive to every refugee. But refugees
only," he said. "We cannot allow ourselves to flood the country with
infiltrators and migrants."
The wave of migration has set off a heated debate in Israel. Many
here believe that Israel, founded as a refuge for survivors of the
Nazi Holocaust during World War II, has a special responsibility to
help those in need.
Others say Israel is under threat. A series of rapes and other crimes
blamed on migrants has fueled an angry backlash among Israelis.
The government has offered cash incentives to those who leave
voluntarily and says others will be expelled by force.
"It´s clear to everyone that we either return everybody home or give
up on the Zionist dream. There is no other option," Yishai said,
urging illegal migrants to turn themselves in and take the incentives
to go home.
Many of the migrants have concentrated in impoverished neighborhoods
of south Tel Aviv — an area with so many migrants that Israelis have
dubbed it "little Africa." After several years in the country, many
of the migrants have learned Hebrew, found jobs and are sending their
children to Israeli schools.
A South Sudanese woman who identified herself as Victoria, speaking
Hebrew, told Israel TV that she would respect the order.
"We want to go back now. We don´t want any trouble," she said. (©
2012 The Associated Press 06/11/12)
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