An international human rights group recently accused Israel of using unlawful and coercive measures to expel more than 8,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in order to secure its Jewish identity. In a report titled ‘Make Their Lives Miserable,’ Human Rights Watch alleged that, on September 9, thousands of African immigrants were compelled to return to their native lands, where they face possible torture and imprisonment.
Israel is home to 60,000 African migrants, most of whom belong to Eritrea and Sudan and have a questionable legal status. While Israel continues to grapple with the heavy influx of migrants, most of them have been held at short-term detention centers.
Recent government legislation has seen the building of a 140-mile-long wall along the border of Egypt, to ensure migrants do not enter the country via Sinai Peninsula. Reportedly, the legislation also includes rumoured deals with third party African countries who are expected to accept the migrants and a so-called voluntary repatriation plan for refugees from Sudan and surrounding areas. Apparently, those seeking asylum in Israel were offered monetary incentives and threatened with arrest if they did not go away.
According to human rights groups, Israel’s measures counter international conventions as most of the refugees face possible harm if they go back home. For instance, since Sudan is at war with Israel, the Sudanese government has outlawed its citizens from traveling to the Jewish state and Eritreans risk jail sentence for evading mandatory military service.
Human Rights Watch’s Van Esveld said, “We think this constitutes effective ‘refoulement,’ which is a refugee law term that means you’re being basically forced back to a country where you face a well-founded fear of some kind of persecution.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that these Africans are not refugees but illegal economic infiltrators. Speculations suggest public pressure and Israel’s desire to maintain its Jewish identity are among the top factors behind Netanyahu’s decisive stance. In 2012 and 2013, violent demonstrations against African immigrants caused the Israeli government to start a string of deportation raids. While such tactics seem to have worked in slowing the flow of refugees into the country, human rights groups have repeatedly urged Israel to alter its detention policies. In the absence of international pressure however, Israel is yet to lax its current laws.
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