African Asylum Applicants: a Case for International Outcry, Condemnation of Israel and Shaming of the Cooperating Countries

By Meron Semedar

Just over a month ago,  the world witnessed the auctioning of African slavery in Libya for as much as $400.00. African Migrants continue to suffer the worst form of treatment even outside their continent. Israel is finalizing deals with Rwanda and Uganda to deport some estimated 40,000 refugees. The refugees were mostly from Eritrea -who escaped indefinite national service and South Sudan - who escaped civil war. This violates the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Israel is violating its international obligation to protecting the rights of the most helpless member of the human society.

Over the past several years, Israel has applied all forms of degrading treatment in handling the fate of the refugees. From keeping them in open mandatory prison reporting three times daily to denying extending their work permits, to issuing a warning to employers, to involuntarily taking away 20% of their income from their paycheck that they can't touch until they leave the country to not return and finally to deporting them back to Africa. Throughout all these years, Israel denied them their rights to apply for asylum portraying them as illegal infiltrators rather than refugees. A nation that several decades back its citizens have endured the worst form of humane treatment. The least you could expect is to show sympathy and compassion. Yet the past years have been a very busy year for prime minister Netanyahu making more than three trips to Africa trying to sell a deal to Rwanda and Uganda. 

Source: GALI TIBBON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - African asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea, take part in a protest against Israel’s deportation policy in front of the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 26, 2017

A nation that portrays itself as the only democratic country in the Middle East has been violating its supreme court rules several times in the past years. The Supreme court has ordered the closure of the Holot detention facility in the Negev desert in 2014 - whose prime objective was to make the asylum applicants suffer, get frustrate and leave the country as a result. In 2015 an Eritrean refugee was shot by police and beaten by crowds for wrongly thinking that he was a Palestinian terrorist. He had no gun which he died as a result. This keeping all those outside the prison in fear daily.

Israel is also encouraging its citizens to assist in the deportation of the African refugees by incentivizing them. Contrary to Jews culture and values, the government has continuously portrayed them as a threat to Israel's Jews character. In the Torah, the Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man." (Talmud Shabbat 31a) Yet the Israeli government have tried all forms of tactics to break the spirit of these refugees. Having endured injustice and violent threats in their home country, what they are asking from Israel is safety from persecution, but their cases have been used as a political scapegoat.

It is believed that both Rwanda and Uganda would receive military, financial, technological and other assistance in exchange for receiving African refugees. Yet this raises many questions to ask. If these refugees are not good for Israel, why are they good for Rwanda or Uganda? What would Rwanda and Uganda provide for the smooth integration of the African refugees? Would they provide them with a work permit at their entry port immediately and a route to naturalization? Would they protect their safety from their home country? Dictators in Africa are found to be ruthless and can threaten the safety of these running away from them in other African countries. So bringing them back to Africa can expose them to a more unsafe situation as was reported from previous deportees. There are also incidences in the past where Eritrean exiles in Libya, Sudan and in Ethiopia have been kidnapped back to Eritrea.

Recent statements by Rwandan and Ugandan officers publicly denied that a deal has been struck with Israel about the African asylum seekers in Israel.  But repeated reports by previously deported individuals,  statements by Israeli Government courts and personnel and repeated articles in the Israeli papers substantiate its reality. The secrecy that Uganda and Rwanda choose to keep around their decision only proves the shame and immorality of the deal.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have their own domestic issues that is well documented and the international community is aware of. Leaders of both nations are known to rule their countries with iron fists, manipulating their parliaments and amending their constitutions to extend the terms and the age limits so that they can rule for many years to come. Both countries allow little room for political dissidents. How can such countries be viewed as safe places to deport to? Are Rwanda and Uganda up for grabs for the aid that would be handed to them by Israel? Are $5000.00 per deported person worth it trading for the thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese lives?

The silence of the African countries on the matter is very scaring. Is it the fear of breaking the diplomatic relations with Israel that is keeping them quiet? What will it take for the African Union (AU) for once to come together and to value the lives of its members? "African Lives Matter!!!" When will the AU be more than a symbol and a talk show? Will the AU raise the issue of the 40,000 Africans in Israel during its annual meeting at the end of this month in Addis Ababa? Will it try to find a dignified solution or will it close its eyes again as it happened for many years in Libya with the slave trade? The African Union needs to wake up and become a force for positive change. Its silence has outraged African youth and made them protest with their foot migrating far to Israel and Europe taking perilous routes.

Israel coerces African refugees to either take $3500 USD as they get deported or face indefinite detention by April. The international community must interfere to the rescue of these voiceless refugees. To strongly condemn Israel, or democratic nations offer to resettle the 40,000 asylum seekers in their own countries. Israel's action is directly violating the principle of non-refoulement which is the cornerstone of asylum and of international refugee law.

Source: Bay Area EDC - Eritreans protesting the treatment of African refugees in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on January 22, 2014. 

Israel's action needs to be called for what it really is: trafficking of defenseless people at a state level and in-plane daylight. It should be faced with massive condemnation starting from within Africa to all over the world. African diasporas need to rally behind their constituents to raise awareness and advocate for their fellow Africans. The international community needs to say no to the violation of international laws by Israel. Both Rwanda and Uganda should be shamed as cooperators with Israeli. The UNHCR cry to the Israeli Government to change its decision of deporting the African refugees should be echoed by the UN Security Council for it to bear weight.



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