The Israeli government has given thousands of African migrants a decision: to leave the country or face imprisonment. If the migrants willingly leave the country within 90 days of the notice they will be given $3,500. Migrants were given the option of going to their home country or third countries. The two African countries commonly cited as the site of relocation is Rwanda and Uganda. Israeli authorities have threatened that they will start jailing them after April. The order, at the moment, does not include children, women, parents of dependent minors and victims of slavery and human trafficking.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority stated that there were 38 000 “infiltrators” in Israel. The term “infiltrators” is used by Israel to describe people who did not enter the country through an official border crossing. That being said, Israel is extremely stringent with who they permit into the country. In Europe last year, approximately 90 percent all Eritreans who had applied for asylum were accepted, allowing in tens of thousands of migrants. In Israel, just 10 Eritreans and one Sudanese person have received asylum since 2009. Many of these “infiltrators” originate from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan to seek asylum after fleeing persecution and conflict. According to the UNHCR, there are 27 000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and 7 700 from Sudan are currently living in Israel. However, Israeli authorities claim that the majority of migrants entering the country are economic migrants, and threat the plight of the migrants along this faulty knowledge.
Thousands of African asylum seekers, migrants and their supporters have taken to the streets of Israel to protest the deportations. Many rights groups have spoken up to oppose this policy. The Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, along with other groups have signed a letter demanding that the expulsions be stopped. “Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees,” the letter says. The United Nations refugee agency urged Israel to halt the relocation programme. As an alternative, the UN suggested that some migrants could be resettled in Europe or other countries.
This issue has caused a division in Israel as well as the larger Jewish community. Some argue that Israel’s identity as a refuge for persecuted Jews should extend non-Jewish asylums seekers. However, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, sixty-six percent of Jewish Israelis, and half of Israeli Arabs, favour the government’s deportation plans.
This plan speaks to how Israel is solidifying a conservative nationalist identity. This plan will further propagate a narrow-minded conception of who belongs and deserves rights. Israel’s anti-immigrant sentiment mirrors that of other countries around the world. Anti-immigrant fervor has manifested in smaller places like Hungary to larger powers like the United States. While Israel might have been motivated by other conservative anti-immigrant movements, Israel’s rejection of African migrants has a long history. An influx of Africans have been trying to enter Israel since 2006, and by 2012, approximately 60 000 Africans had succeeded. This wave of migrants more or less ended in 2013, when Israel constructed a wall along its southern border with Egypt. Israel also passed many policies to coerce migrants to leave. “These [methods] include indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9 percent Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare,” read a 2014 Human Rights Watch report.
However, if asylum seekers and activist groups in Israel succeed in stopping the effort, it could bring alive the liberal parts of Israel’s civil society. Liberal sections of Israeli society have historically struggled to build strong coalitions for nationwide change.