African Refugees’ Plight: Extreme Hostilities in Israel



African refugees in Israel, mostly consisting of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, have been experiencing extreme hostilities for the past five years. According to Aljazeera, they have “long been the target of incitement and discriminatory legislation.” They are denied justice, lack any rights, and “are all living … without any help, education, insurance, and ID or paper to move” says Abraham Avi, an Eritrean asylum-seeker to Vocative. African refugees also regularly face racism, indefinite imprisonment, and deportation. The Washington post reported that the Israeli court approved deportation of refugees either to home or to other African countries including Rwanda and Uganda, in July 2015, and those who refused were forced to stay in prison. 

Israeli leaders justify their actions to the Israeli Jew majority by denigrating the refugees as a demographic threat that needs to be stopped. However, these actions, as David Blum, an Israeli citizen, told Bloomberg, are an embarrassment which betrays Israel’s traditions and will have a negative effect on business as the Africans are the backbone for the restaurant and hotel industry.

In addition to deportation and imprisonment, African refugees have been victims of violent attacks in Israel. The brutal killing of an Eritrean migrant worker, Habtom Zerom, in October 2015 reveals the current ordeal of African refugees in the country. After being shot by a security officer, he was beaten by a crowd to the state of being critically injured, which later caused his death. Amnesty International argued that “Zerom was… targeted simply because of the color of his skin” or, in other words, he was a “victim of racism and xenophobia.”

After the killing of Zarhom, fear and confusion has struck among African refugees. Elizabeth Tsurkav, project director at the Hotline for refugees and migrants, told Reuters that “politicians have warned about possible connection to ISIS or Hamas, and as a result when people in Beersheba saw a person with dark skin, even though a single refugee never committed a terrorist attack in Israel, they beat them to death basically.”  This fact has further aggravated refugees’ fear for their security in Israel. Yirgalem Tesfai, an Eritrean asylum seeker told Vocative that the incident has further worsened their fear for their security to the point where they have been afraid of either being deported or being moved to Holot (a detention center in southern Israel). According to him, after the incident they have been living in distress for weeks and have been forced to prevent their family from going outside. 

Amnesty International recommends that the Israeli government and security forces must “stop and prevent civilians from taking the law into their own hands, and to eradicate the security forces killing of suspects without a fair trial” since the current development regarding refugees is a result of “the government’s and Israeli authorities’ encouragement to execute people without trial.” 

For a country built by refugees from around the world, including Africa, this incident in addition to the actions taken by the government is almost inhumane and unacceptable. Eritrean and Sudanese refugees have fled in fear of war and dictatorship. Their deportation, especially considering that they may face extra judicial measures in their own countries, certainly will affect their lives. So Israel must reconsider its policy and should do more regarding their safety. 


Yeshihareg Abebe