Posts Tagged ‘asylum seekers’

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban warns of immigration threat at National Day rally — “The situation is that those who don’t block migration at their borders will be lost. They will slowly but surely be digested … [they] will live to see when they become a minority in their own country and lose the only place in the world to call home.”

March 18, 2018

Speaking to tens of thousands of his supporters, Prime Minister Viktor Orban used emotive language as he focused on immigration. He has been branded as a racist, xenophobe and bully by the UN’s human rights chief.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban

The rally in front of the Hungarian parliament building during a national holiday on Thursday was a large one: Up to 100,000 Orban supporters came to hear the prime minister make a 25-minute speech on what has become the main theme of the elections: immigration.

“They want us to voluntarily give [our country] to others, to foreigners from other continents who don’t speak our language, don’t respect our culture, laws or lifestyle,” Orban told the crowd. “They want to exchange ours for their own. There is no exaggeration in this.”

The elections are to be held in three weeks time, on April 8, and Orban has a significant lead in the opinion polls. His policies to block immigration have been the main focus of his campaign to gain the premiership for a third time.

Banners with the words “Homeland before all” and “God protect Hungary and Poland from left-wing ideology!” were prominent in the rally.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at the rally which also marked the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against AustriaPrime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at the rally which also marked the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against Austria

“The situation is that those who don’t block migration at their borders will be lost. They will slowly but surely be digested,” Orban told the crowd. “The youth of Western Europe will still live to see when they become a minority in their own country and lose the only place in the world to call home.”

Buses brought in supporters from towns across Hungary and several thousand Poles traveled to the Hungarian capital to support the rally.

“Large western European countries bit by bit are losing their own countries, they want to force us to do the same,” he told the crowd. “Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us.”

Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Orban as a racist, xenophobe and bully whose “racial rhetoric is increasingly delusional.”

Image may contain: 1 person, beard and suit

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo by Rick Bajornas

Warning for the opposition

Orban also had a warning for the opposition, who he claimed were working with foreign powers to remove the fences his administration had built on the southern border three years ago to prevent migrants coming into Hungary.

“We will take moral, legal and political revenge after the elections,” he said, in what some opposition politicians have interpreted as a threat. He also criticized the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, placing him among Hungary’s historical enemies: The Ottoman Empire, the Habsburgs and the Soviet Union.

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The rally was held on the 170th anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution against the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs in March 1848. A year later, combined Russian and Austrian forces defeated the Hungarians.

There were small counter-demonstrations held in Budapest on Thursday, but the opposition remains fragmented.

In February, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party lost a by-election, giving impetus to the idea that the election could be closer than the opinion polls suggest.

jm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)


Germany’s Seehofer says EU ‘patronizing’ eastern members on migrants — EU is unable to protect its external borders — Said European Commission’s “moralizing” tone toward eastern European states is wrong

March 18, 2018
March 18, 2018, at 12:02 a.m.

Germany’s Seehofer Says EU ‘Patronizing’ Eastern Members on Migrants

BERLIN (REUTERS) – German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has accused the European Union of adopting a patronizing stance in talks with eastern European members about the distribution of migrants.

Seehofer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies, made the comments in an interview with German Sunday newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, days after sparking a public outcry by saying Islam did not belong to Germany.

Image result for Die Welt am Sonntag, seehofer, photos

The former Bavarian premier is keen to show his party is tough on migration abuses ahead of October state elections in Bavaria, to win back voters who defected in large numbers to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Sept. 24 national election. The AfD has also been critical of the EU.

Seehofer called for continued German border controls as long as the EU is unable to protect its external borders, and criticized the European Commission for what he called a “moralizing” tone toward eastern European states who have refused to take in asylum seekers under an EU-wide quota system.

Such an attitude was “counter-productive,” Seehofer said, adding, “Every country has its pride.”

The conservative politician, whose party has long been to the right of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, urged the EU to stop making decisions “over the heads” of member states.

“The EU commission is often patronizing,” he told the newspaper. “We need to put more energy into dialogue on the distribution of refugees. If we keep negotiating patiently, a majority of countries will support (it).”

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel

New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had told Bild newspaper “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany,” but added that “the Muslims who live with us are, of course, part of Germany.

Other countries could contribute in other ways, perhaps by sending more personnel to the EU borders, or by contributing more for joint border patrols, he said.

Seehofer’s remarks could exacerbate tensions in the uneasy new “grand coalition” between Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats.

Merkel firmly rebuffed Seehofer last week, saying that Germany’s 4 million Muslims belonged to the country, as did their religion. Leading SPD members also criticized his remarks on Islam.

Johannes Kahrs, a member of parliament and spokesman for the conservative wing of the SPD, accused Seehofer of using his new ministerial post to campaign for the CSU in Bavaria.

“Building bridges and not digging trenches is the responsibility of all decent Germans,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Germany’s future interior minister Horst Seehofer vows to increase deportations — Announces “master plan” — “The new broom sweeps clean”

March 11, 2018

The incoming interior minister has said he has a “master plan for faster asylum procedures, and more consistent deportations.” He also said there was a need for a strong state to protect Germany’s liberal values.

CSU chief Horst Seehofer talking to reporters

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s designated interior minister, said he plans to put in place a “master plan” to speed up asylum procedures and ensure consistent deportations in comments published on Sunday.

“The number of deportations must be increased significantly. We need to take tougher action, especially in the case of criminals and perpetrators among asylum seekers,” Seehofer told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Seehofer, who has been critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies, said decisions on asylum applications must be made in a few months rather than in a year or more.

Read moreOpinion: An ‘upper limit’ on refugees — by any other name

‘Strong state’

The head of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) vowed to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward criminals.

“We want to remain an open-minded and liberal country. But when it comes to protecting our citizens, we need a strong state. I’ll make sure of that,” Seehofer said.

The future interior minister called for effective video surveillance at every hot spot in the country.

“There has to be a consensus throughout Germany that we will no longer tolerate lawless zones,” he said.

Seehofer will take over the newly renamed and enhanced Interior, Construction and Homeland (“Heimat”) Ministry in the upcoming coalition government.

Read moreA deeper look at Germany’s new Interior and Heimat Ministry

ap/aw (Reuters, dpa)

German free-meals charity bars new migrant clients — No room at the inn

February 22, 2018


© dpa/AFP/File | Refugees, mainly rejected asylum seekers, hold a banner reading ‘Justice we need’ as they face police officers at a train station in southern Germany

BERLIN (AFP) – A German food bank said Thursday it would temporarily stop accepting new non-German clients, citing a huge influx of migrants that was displacing locals in need.”We want the German granny to be able to keep coming to us,” said Joerg Sartor, chairman of the charitable group that serves free meals to the poor in the western city of Essen.

He said especially German elderly people and single mothers had been gradually displaced over the past two years as the share of migrants had risen to three-quarters of recipients.

More than 1.2 million asylum seekers have come to Europe’s biggest economy since 2015, more than half from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in mass influx that sparked a xenophobic backlash.

The website of the “Essener Tafel” charity said it had taken the step in order to avoid frictions between needy locals and foreigners that could harm acceptance of the newcomers.

“Since the number of foreign citizens among our clients has risen to 75 percent in recent years … we are forced to only accept customers with German identity cards in order to facilitate proper integration,” it said.

The charity announced the change in December and implemented it in mid-January, but it was only widely reported on Thursday, initially by the newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ).

The group, like hundreds of similar charities nationwide, collects surplus food that would otherwise be discarded by supermarkets and other businesses to prepare and serve it to the poor.

Typically, people have to register to qualify for regular free meals by proving that they are recipients of unemployment or other social benefits.

Sartor told the WAZ daily that his charity would maintain the additional demand that new clients show German identity papers to register “until the balance is restored”.

French government unveils tougher asylum rules in new bill

February 21, 2018


© Charly Triballeau, AFP | A migrant holds a placard reading ‘Migrant in danger’ during a protest in front of the sub-prefecture in Le Havre, northwestern France, on December 19, 2016.

Video by Julia KIM

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-02-21

Emmanuel Macron’s government will on Wednesday propose toughening France’s immigration and asylum laws amid vocal criticism from human rights groups in a move that will test the unity of his left-and-right majority.

 Image result for schengen ,signs, photos

The bill unveiled on Wednesday will double the time for which undocumented migrants can be detained to 90 days and shorten the deadlines to apply for asylum, from 120 days to 90 days after a migrant’s arrival in France. It will also make the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines.

The new bill aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six, while providing help to those who want to go home.

“Why do we want to reduce to six months? Because for those for whom asylum is granted, it is better to be able to begin integrating into French society as early as possible,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters at the Élysée Palace after Wednesday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

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“But for those deported, in six months you haven’t lost your family roots, you haven’t lost contact with your country, and so it is better that the time limit be shorter…,” Collomb continued.

Migrant charities have blasted the bill as repressive, saying the emphasis on quicker processing times may make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to defend their rights. They have, for example, criticised the notion of cutting in half – to 15 days – the timeframe provided to appeal a rejection decision, saying it leaves the would-be appellant little time to secure a lawyer.

Staff at France’s asylum court and the Ofpra refugee protection office are on strike Wednesday over the law unions have blasted as “an unquestionable break with France’s tradition of asylum”.

>> Aiding migrants in France: What are the legal implications?

“We’re asking for it to be withdrawn,” said the Cimade charity, which works with migrants and asylum-seekers.

“We’re not even in favour of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”

The government says it wants to be both firm and fair on immigration, and the bill will also make it easier for minors to get asylum and will aim to halve the time it takes for authorities to process any asylum request.

Disquiet in majority ranks

But while Macron’s parliamentary majority, a mix of lawmakers who have their roots both in right-wing and left-wing parties, has so far been largely united, the government’s migration plans have triggered disquiet in its own ranks.

Matthieu Orphelin, a lawmaker from Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party, on Tuesday said increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, adding that he intended to table amendments to modify the bill.

Another lawmaker from Macron’s party, Sonia Krimi, has accused the government of “playing with people’s fears” with its migration reform. “All foreigners in France are not terrorists, all foreigners do not cheat with social welfare,” she told Collomb in parliament in December.


The government has already had to abandon a controversial proposal to deport people to a third country deemed “safe”.

And a separate law on taking in “Dublin” migrants those whose asylum claims are registered in other EU countries sparked a tense debate in parliament last week, with some among Macron’s own LREM party criticising it.

“We are in danger of normalising locking people up,” said LREM lawmaker Florence Granjus.

The bill might however prove popular with voters. A BVA opinion poll earlier this month showed that 63 percent of French voters consider there are too many immigrants in France.

The number of people filing asylum requests in France hit a record in 2017, topping 100,000, up 17 percent on 2016. About 36 percent of applicants were granted refugee status.

“The bill is completely balanced,” Collomb insisted last month. “It works on two guiding principles: France must welcome refugees, but it cannot welcome all economic migrants.”

The minister has come under fire in recent weeks after he ordered immigration agents to go into homeless shelters to check people’s residency status.

Charities have taken the government to France’s highest administrative court over the policy, which they say breaches people’s right to seek shelter without fear of questions being asked.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)


France to unveil controversial migrant law — immigration checks in homelss shelters? — 100,000 asylum applications last year — criminalises illegal border crossings

February 21, 2018



© AFP/File / by Katy LEE and Claire GALLEN | France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year.
PARIS (AFP) – The French government is set to unveil a tough new immigration bill Wednesday that is proving one of the most divisive of Emmanuel Macron’s young presidency.The legislation, which criminalises illegal border crossings and aims for quicker deportation of those deemed economic migrants, has sparked widespread anger from NGOs who have branded it repressive.

The government says the law balances “efficiency” with “humanity”, offering faster asylum to refugees found to have fled conflict or repression.

But it has opened divisions in the left-right coalition that newcomer Macron set up when he came to power in May, with even some members of his Republic On The Move (LREM) party breaking ranks to criticise it.

“The most vulnerable will be punished,” said Jean-Michel Clement, a lawmaker who joined the centrist LREM after switching from the Socialists.

“It’s not forbidden to put a little humanity into a draft law.”

Some workers at France’s refugee protection office Ofpra were going on strike to protest the bill on Wednesday, branding it “an unequivocal departure from France’s tradition of asylum”.

They join staff at the asylum court who have been on strike for nine days over their working conditions, with immigration lawyers also raising concerns over aspects of the draft law.

The bill will be presented to the cabinet Wednesday before being tabled in parliament in April.

While leftwingers see it as too punitive the right have labelled it too lax.

Macron has come under pressure to toughen his stance after winning power in an election in which far-right leader Marine Le Pen won 34 percent of the vote, capitalising on concerns over immigration.

The infamous “Jungle” migrant in Calais was razed in 2016 but young Africans and South Asians continue to head to the coast hoping to stow away on trucks crossing to Britain, while others are camped out on the streets of Paris.

France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year.

Liberation newspaper noted that while polls showed voters backing tougher laws the relocation of thousands of migrants to towns and villages nationwide in 2016 went off largely without hitch.

“The French say they are worried, wary and want conservative migration policies. But once they get to know refugees they also want them to be welcomed,” the paper wrote in an editorial.

– More French lessons –

NGOs have lashed out in particular at plans to double the time asylum seekers can be held in detention to 90 days and halve the amount of the time they have to appeal if turned down for refugee status.

“We’re asking for it to be withdrawn,” the Cimade migrants’ charity said of the bill.

“We’re not even in favour of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”

The government has defended the bill as “balanced” and said it is considering proposals on how to better integrate newcomers, including doubling the number of hours of French lessons they get and allowing asylum seekers to work.

The bill also aims to cut the average waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six, although staff at the asylum court have raised concerns that the tighter turnaround on cases will make it more difficult to appeal.

A heated parliamentary debate last week on a separate law on taking in “Dublin” migrants — those whose asylum claims are registered in other EU countries — provided a taste of how the issue has split Macron backers.

The government has already had to abandon a controversial proposal to deport failed asylum-seekers to a third country deemed “safe”.

Plans by Interior Minister Gerard Collomb to carry out immigration checks in homeless shelters have also come under fire in recent weeks.

by Katy LEE and Claire GALLEN

Germany sharply caps refugee family reunions

February 1, 2018


© AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are in ongoing coalition talks the Social Democrats in hopes of launching a new joint government

BERLIN (AFP) – Germany’s parliament voted after a heated debate Thursday to resume family reunions for temporary refugees from mid-year but sharply restrict the number of relatives arriving at 1,000 a month.Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended the law, which passed by a margin of 376 against 298, as “a compromise between humanity and responsibility… between generosity and realism”.

The measure was agreed Tuesday in ongoing coalition talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative camp and the Social Democrats, in the hope of launching a new joint government by late March.

Germany, which has taken in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, stopped family reunions for such “subsidiary” status refugees in March 2016 to slow the mass influx.

Those with subsidiary status are not considered political or war refugees, but are temporarily spared deportation on safety grounds.

An increasingly heated debate on immigration has pitted left-leaning parties and pro-refugee groups against conservatives and the far-right, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

AfD lawmaker Christian Wirth argued that refugees should reunite with their families back in their home countries, for example in what he called “protected zones in Syria”.

He also charged that “Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow German borders to be overrun by a migrant flood… was a flagrant breach of the law” and accused her government and the EU of a plot to replace Europe’s population with Arabs and Africans.

The issue of how many subsidiary-status refugees are allowed to bring their spouses or children had become one of the most contentious in the coalition talks.

Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats also agreed in principle to cap Germany’s total annual intake at about 200,000 asylum seekers a year.

Under the new law, family reunions will remain suspended until the end of July, after which up to 1,000 relatives a month, plus an unknown number of yet to be defined “hardship cases”, will be allowed to come to Germany.

The refugee aid group Pro Asyl slammed the law as “absolutely insufficient” and a victory for the “hardliners” in Merkel’s Bavarian sister party the CSU.

The Greens party accused the Social Democrats of caving on the issue, while the parliamentary head of the far-left Die Linke party Dietmar Bartsch charged that “this law is arbitrary, morally questionable and inhumane”.

Israel to double pace of deporting Africans and replace them with Palestinian workers

January 29, 2018

The goal is to get at least 600 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals to leave each month, for a total of 7,200 a year, and replace them with Palestinian workers

Thousands of asylum seekers protest Israel's efforts to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda on January 22, 2018 outside the Rwandan embassy.
Thousands of asylum seekers protest Israel’s efforts to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda on January 22, 2018 outside the Rwandan embassy.Meged Gozani

The government is seeking to double the pace at which African asylum seekers leave Israel, and to replace them with Palestinianworkers.

The target the government has set is to get at least 600 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals to leave each month, for a total of 7,200 a year. That is more than double the approximately 3,300 who have left in each of the last three years. The last time the government achieved a departure rate similar to its current target was in 2014, when some 6,400 Africans left.

A resolution adopted at a special cabinet session two and a half weeks ago says that if, on average, at least 600 “infiltrators” a month leave, the government will issue one Palestinian work visa for every two Africans who depart. The resolution doesn’t explain why this ratio was chosen.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, which is responsible for carrying out the deportations, said on Sunday it wasn’t consulted on the matter and cannot explain the decision.

According to the authority’s data, some 34,000 Eritrean and Sudanese adults currently live in Israel. Most are employed in restaurants, hotels or cleaning jobs, and the government expects most of them to leave within the next three years.

In their stead, the resolution said, the government will grant up to 12,000 work visas to Palestinians. An inter-ministerial committee will decide which industries these Palestinians will be authorized to work in.

The cabinet also decided at that meeting to grant work visas to up to 13,000 additional Palestinians, including 1,500 for the restaurant industry, 1,000 for the hotel industry, 7,000 for construction, 2,000 for agriculture, 1,000 for institutional nursing care and 700 for East Jerusalem hospitals.

According to data from the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, some 70,000 Palestinians are already employed in Israel and another 30,000 in the settlements.

About 10 days ago, the immigration authority began informing asylum seekers held at the detention facility in Holot that if they don’t leave Israel, they will be jailed indefinitely at Saharonim Prison. So far, such notices have been handed to a few dozen of the approximately 900 asylum seekers at Holot, which is slated to be closed in about another six weeks.

Israel about to read them the riot act 

In early February, the authority is slated to start handing out such notices to thousands of asylum seekers who aren’t at Holot when they come to renew their visas, which they must do every two months. Authority employees will give these asylum seekers one final two-month visa and tell them that if they haven’t left by the time it expires, they will be unable to work legally and be subject to arrest and unlimited detention. This step is expected to remove thousands of asylum seekers from the workforce in April and May.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs have recently warned that mass deportations of asylum seekers will seriously harm their industries. They say there aren’t enough Israelis willing to do the jobs now done by Eritreans and Sudanese, even if they are offered higher wages.

Tourism Minister Yuval Levin told TheMarker three weeks ago that he’s trying to get government approval to bring in migrant workers from the Philippines to replace the African asylum seekers at hotels. On Sunday his office said it has received approval for 500 Filipinos now and another 500 later if the program proves successful, along with 1,000 Palestinians.

More than three years ago, the government approved letting 1,500 Jordanians come to Israel to work in Eilat hotels in place of African asylum seekers. These workers commute to Israel, going home every night.

Shai Berman, head of the Israeli Restaurant Association, said on Sunday that the plan approved by the government is inadequate. “We received a quota of 1,500 Palestinian workers who are supposed to replace more than 10,000 asylum seekers,” he said. “Given that Israelis aren’t interested in filling these positions, that’s not really a solution.”

Moreover, he said, employing Palestinians “isn’t at all simple. You have to get a permit from the army for them to stay overnight and then rent apartments for them. You have to remember that for us restaurateurs, it’s not like in construction, where they can come to work and at 3 P.M. the van comes and takes them back home. For us, work at many businesses begins at 3 P.M., and it also includes weekends.”

Meanwhile, the immigration authority is still trying to recruit new immigration inspectors to help carry out the deportations. In response to a question from Haaretz, the authority said on Sunday that 300 people have applied for the jobs, of whom 100 will be hired, almost doubling the current number of inspectors.

The new inspectors will start work in March on two-year contracts. Aside from detaining asylum seekers who are here illegally, they will be responsible for enforcing the law against businesses that employ asylum seekers illegally.

The authority said it has also received some 300 applications for 40 new positions at the Refugee Status Determination unit in south Tel Aviv, which processes asylum applications. This is a significant boost over the unit’s current staff of 60.

Both categories of new workers are being promised special bonuses – 30,000 shekels ($8,900) for the inspectors and 20,000 shekels for the RSD staffers – if they stay on the job for a specified period of time.

Israeli Holocaust survivors ask Netanyahu not to expel Africans

January 26, 2018



© AFP | African migrants demonstrate against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers from Israel, at a protest on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Holocaust survivors are pleading with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his plan to forcefully expel tens of thousands of African migrants, citing their own experiences as outcasts.”We, who know precisely what it’s like to be refugees, to be homeless and bereft of a state that preserves and protects us from violence and suffering, cannot comprehend how a Jewish government can expel refugees and asylum seekers to a journey of suffering, torment and death,” the 36 signatories wrote in an open letter published in English by Haaretz newspaper on Friday.

The appeal came on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On January 3, Netanyahu announced implementation of a plan to deport about 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, and gave them until the end of March to leave voluntarily or face jail and eventual expulsion by force.

He defended his decision at the weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday, denying that the potential deportees were refugees.

“We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees but for work needs,” he said. “Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees and will remove illegal migrants from its midst.”

He did not say to which country they would be sent but Israel tacitly recognises it is too dangerous to return the Sudanese and Eritreans home.

Aid workers and media have named Uganda and Rwanda.

Uganda has publicly denied being a destination.

The website of the Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) says that of 10,000 asylum requests from Eritreans in Israel, only seven have been granted, while one Sudanese has received asylum.

It does not state the number of Sudanese applicants, but government figures from October 2016 list 8,066 Sudan nationals among the migrants.

A 2016 UN commission of inquiry into Eritrea’s regime found “widespread and systematic” crimes against humanity and said an estimated 5,000 people flee the country each month.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide linked to his regime’s counter-insurgency tactics in the 14-year-old Darfur conflict.

ASSAF says that there are “thousands” from the Darfur region of western Sudan among those seeking asylum in Israel whose applications have yet to receive an answer.


Israel’s Plan to Deport Asylum Seekers, a Seemingly Done Deal, Is Now in Shambles

January 26, 2018


Only a few weeks ago, activists were conceding defeat to deportation. But the wheels had been coming off the hastily drawn plan for months

One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proudest achievements in office has been the new border fence with Egypt. He may have been exaggerating when he described it in 2013 as “one of the greatest…
African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel, January 22, 2018.
African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel, January 22, 2018.meged gozani

One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proudest achievements in office has been the new border fence with Egypt. He may have been exaggerating when he described it in 2013 as “one of the greatest engineering feats ever achieved in Israel.” Still, it has certainly worked and actually proved one of his least controversial actions.

Replacing the old, ramshackle barbwire fence, the new 5-meter (16-foot), reinforced steel barrier has made it much more difficult for Islamist groups to launch cross-border terror attacks like the one near Eilat in August 2011, when eight Israelis were killed and the impetus to finally build the fence was provided. It has also severely hampered the smuggling of arms and drugs, and, most importantly, cut off the Sinai’s human-trafficking route. Since the fence’s completion in 2013, the Bedouin gangs that trafficked in Eastern Europe women (to be forced into prostitution) and African refugees – fleeing repressive Sudan and Eritrea – have had to look elsewhere.

>> ‘We will go down terribly in history:’ Holocaust survivors join growing Israeli backlash against deportation of African refugees <<

But cutting off the smuggling channels was not enough. In the seven years before the barrier was up, some 50,000 African refugees had paid the Bedouin’s exorbitant fees and reached Israel. Denied status and unable to work legally, most of them ended up in cramped accommodations in south Tel Aviv, where odd jobs were available and a community of sorts emerged.

A toxic combination of authentic complaints and unsubstantiated allegations of crime and epidemics made the plight of south Tel Aviv’s veteran residents a rallying point for far-right activists – including members of the outlawed Kahanist groups – and Netanyahu has for years been trying to work out a deportation solution.

With record low unemployment rates and a growing demand for foreign workers, a comprehensive plan to “legalize” the asylum seekers and resettle them across Israel would have been the humane and efficient solution. But incitement against the “infiltrators” – as the government calls them – by nationalist politicians and pundits has turned it into a challenge from the right-wing base that Netanyahu could not avoid. Deportation was the only way out. Anything less would be seen as a sign of weakness.

There was no way the High Court of Justice would allow the government to deport the Sudanese and Eritreans back to their homelands. Quiet negotiations were conducted with various African countries to serve as “third countries,” and eventually secret deals were reached with Uganda and Rwanda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in south Tel Aviv, August 31, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in south Tel Aviv, August 31, 2018.\ Moti Milrod

A few thousand asylum seekers were prevailed upon to leave “voluntarily,” with a few thousand dollars in their pockets. But news of how they were mistreated upon arrival soon filtered back – and then no one was prepared to volunteer any more. However, egged on by his cheerleaders, Netanyahu refused to back down and together with Interior Minister Arye Dery, who holds the immigration brief, made dramatic visits last year to south Tel Aviv, where he was received rapturously.

The main problem was not having sufficient leverage against the refugees. The High Court refused to let the government incarcerate them for more than 60 days. But a breakthrough came for Netanyahu last December, when the High Court approved deportation to “third countries” of any refugee whose asylum request is not pending. The fact the Interior Ministry has made it extremely difficult to request asylum – and that of 12,000 requests, only a third have been cursorily processed, and of those only 10 approved – failed to sway the justices.

The orders were given to expedite the mass deportation plan. Dozens of planes were to be chartered, the refugees given the stark choice of leaving voluntarily with $3,500 in cash or facing indefinite detention. The Rwandan government was to receive $5,000, or some other form of goods or arms, for every refugee they accepted.

Only a few weeks ago it seemed all over. The small band of activists who had fought for the refugees’ rights were conceding defeat and trying to at least save the unaccompanied children among them from deportation.

But even as the first notices were being issued to the refugees, the wheels were coming off from the plan. It had been drawn up too hastily, without due consultation with the various agencies involved. The Israel Prison Service, already suffering from massive overcrowding, made clear it had no space for the thousands of expected detainees. The refugee groups made clear they would not accept the financial inducements and when the government threatened to deport them by force, legal advisers made clear to the High Court they would almost certainly accept a petition against forcible deportation.

No less important, the small circle of activists supporting the refugees had rapidly begun to grow. A series of petitions circulated, with the signatories committing themselves to hiding refugees in their homes if necessary.

At first, it was easy for the government’s supporters in the media to deride these groups as anti-Zionist, far-leftist, elitist NIMBYists who didn’t care for the poor residents of south Tel Aviv. But still the protests grew, with petitions signed by over 1,000 doctors and medical staff; 100 air crew refused to man deportation flights and called upon their colleagues not to do so either; and, perhaps most damagingly, a personal letter was sent to Netanyahu, signed by 36 Holocaust survivors.

The publicity has already caused Rwanda to announce it has no “secret” agreement with Israel and that it will not accept refugees deported against their will. Whatever deal President Paul Kagame’s government has with Netanyahu, it doesn’t seem to be worth the adverse publicity in Africa.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The survivors’ letter is now the main Holocaust-related news coming out of Israel just in time for the one date in the calendar when most of the global media is looking for stories on this issue: International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this Saturday.

It hardly seemed necessary, but apparently even Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers, Ron Dermer – certainly no liberal – has been warning the prime minister of the PR disaster being caused by reports about the deportations.

Is the leaking of Dermer’s concerns the harbinger of a government climbdown? It’s too early to say. Either way, Netanyahu will seek to blame the south Tel Aviv-hating left for sabotaging his “humane and just” deportation and furthering their goal of swamping Israel with aliens.

There are valuable lessons here for embattled Israeli human rights groups on how to actually win a campaign despite what seem at first like insurmountable odds and public indifference.

It is still way too early to declare victory. But even if Netanyahu succeeds in salvaging his plan, the self-inflicted damage has been done and the deportations, if they take place, will be accompanied by a great deal more lousy publicity for him. What seemed imminent a few weeks ago now looks improbable.