Out of Israel, back to Africa (REUTERS) By Douglas Hamilton TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 06/12/12 7:28am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - African migrants chosen for deportation from Israel were
nervously awaiting a knock on the door or a tap on the shoulder on
Tuesday as immigration officials rounded up hundreds for departure
flights due to begin at the weekend.
"The people are very tense. It´s pretty traumatic," said Jacob Berri,
a spokesman for the South Sudanese community of migrants, the first
to be repatriated under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s emergency
"There are children here who only speak Hebrew. They won´t even know
the language where they´re going," Berri said.
Africans were being stopped on the street and issued deportation
orders, he added. "About 100 more have been arrested this morning."
Many of the migrants have been working in hotels and restaurants,
while others have been holding down manual jobs or working as
contracted day labor. All of them were technically working illegally.
Israeli opinion is divided over plans to eventually deport some
60,000 African migrants deemed a social irritant and a threat to the
Jewish character of the state. A columnist in the daily Yedioth
Ahronoth called it "hysteria". Another in the same paper said the
methods may be "needlessly brutal" but it was necessary.
The first deportation flight is expected to leave Israel on Sunday
for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, as part of what Israel calls
Operation Returning Home.
Detentions began on Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, where
Israeli television filmed weeping African women and men in handcuffs.
Those detained were sent to the Saharonim detention facility in the
Negev Desert, close to where they first entered Israel over the
porous Sinai Desert border with Egypt.
The South Sudanese, whose country was established in 2011 after they
fled civil war in Sudan five or six years ago, will be the first to
be repatriated, under an agreement between South Sudan and Israel.
They number only some 1,500.
"The next stage is the removal from Israel of all the infiltrators
from Eritrea and Sudan, whose number comes close to 50,000 people,"
said Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
It is legally questionable whether Israel can actually remove all of
the migrants and some critics have said the government´s tough
rhetoric is far removed from reality.
"At the moment, we are permitted only to deport from Israel the
citizens of South Sudan and the Ivory Coast," the minister was quoted
"I hear those who say these infiltrators cannot be sent back, but
this is an important mission ...saying "No" is tantamount to shelving
the declaration of independence, the end of the Zionist dream," said
Yishai, who heads a religious party.
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South Sudanese who agree to deportation within five days will receive
a grant of 1,000 euros. Those who do not are interned until they can
be forcibly repatriated.
"We have arrested about 140 infiltrators up until last night, a main
portion of whom are South Sudanese," senior immigration official
Yossi Edelstein told Israel Radio.
"There is also an impressive movement in the South Sudanese community
of people coming to us to leave on their own free will. About 100
people have come forward to register..."
Israel, a country of 7.8 million, has almost completed a high fence
along the border to deter more would-be migrants who are brought to
the frontier by Bedouin people-smugglers.
Newspaper reports said Netanyahu had asked officials to examine
whether a fence should now also be built along the border with
southern Jordan, in the event that migrants try to cross the narrow
Gulf of Aqaba and enter Israel from the Arab kingdom.
An Eilat hotel director said the expulsions were "a terrible
shame". "�Most of them are educated people who fled from a bloody
war in their homeland. They speak a number of languages, most of them
are Christian, and they did their job in the best way possible,"
David Blum of Isrotel was quoted as saying.
Thousands of Palestinians used to come into Israel daily from the
West Bank and Gaza to do mostly minimum-wage jobs. But tight security
provisions to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants ended that
mutually beneficial arrangement years ago.
Netanyahu says legislation to stop the illegal hiring of Africans
would now be strictly enforced.
Despite claims of rampant crime in sections of south Tel Aviv where
most Africans live, a senior police commander, David Gez, was quoted
as saying the level of crime among the migrants was relatively low.�
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Edited by Andrew Osborn) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 06/12/12)
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