A first set of asylum seekers has been arrested in Israel after the country’s government made a controversial announcement in November, 2017. The Israeli government broadcasted that they planned to deport around 40,000 African migrants in the country. Those who refused to leave, would face imprisonment for an undisclosed amount of time. As such, seven Eritrean asylum seekers have been jailed after refusing to be deported to Rwanda. In response to the imprisonment of the Eritrean asylum seekers, other migrants across the country are now on a hunger strike to show their solidarity. Though Israel has faced some backlash to the massive deportation movement, opinion polls in the country suggest 70 percent support the recent move. Around 600 migrants have received deportation notices so far, and more will be forced to make a choice in the coming months.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are about 27,000 Eritrean asylum seekers and 7,700 Sudanese refugees in Israel. Though each person has a different story, many of these migrants have experienced trauma on their way to Israel. According to a UNHCR spokesperson, William Spindler, “[asylum seekers have] suffered abuse, torture and extortion before risking their lives once again by crossing the Mediterranean to Italy.” Little is known about the seven people arrested, but according to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and the ASSAF, two refugee-focused human rights groups in Tel Aviv, two of the asylum seekers are survivors of torture. Both groups have thus condemned the actions of the Israeli government. In a joint statement, the groups said that “[t]his is the first step in what is a globally unprecedented deportation operation, a move tainted by racism and complete disregard for the life and dignity of asylum seekers.”
For years, Eritrea has been a dictatorship and is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Similarly, conflicts in Sudan have increased the number of displaced persons, and forced thousands to flee for their lives. Israel claims to have made agreements with Uganda and Rwanda to take in the deported migrants, but both African countries have made no statements about said deals. Additionally, Uganda and Rwanda can offer no protections to those deported there, and face their own unrest. As a result, one could argue that Israel is essentially sending these migrants to their deaths.
Moreover, the recent imprisonment of migrants in the county calls into question not only the legality of the announcement itself, but of Israel’s legacy too. According to international law, Israel cannot detain asylum seekers for indefinite amounts of time. Additionally, some argue that Israel is defying their own morals through these deportations. The nation was founded as a place for survivors after the Holocaust, and has deep ties to accepting refugees in the past. The deportation movement thus threatens that legacy. Similarly, many religious leaders in the country have protested the movement, claiming that Israel has a moral obligation to aid the refugees and migrants.
The current deportation movement in Israel demonstrates a rising racism that exists in the state to destroy the spirit of African migrants. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, refuses to recognize the asylum status of any African migrants in the country. However, this has not stopped migrants from making Israel their home. At a protest against the deportation movement, asylum seeker Johny Goytion Kafl told a crowd in perfect Hebrew: “You are treated like a human being in Israel. Here I am not afraid.” While the treatment of migrants in Israel is unacceptable, it will not stop the arrival of more migrants escaping for their lives. As such, Israel cannot ignore the influx of migrants in their country or, as mentioned above, send them to their deaths. Rather, they must end the illegal (and immoral) deportation of people who have already experienced enough traumas in their lifetime.