Until refugees can return to their own countries, we have a duty - which is
also a great privilege - to host them here and ensure them a place, a place
that is also ours, in this world, at this time.
By Asaf Weitzen
* Published 03:43 26.12.11
People in the government claim that the "infiltrators" are not refugees but
rather migrant workers and an existential threat to Israel. If so, why don't
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai - who
can't be suspected of being bleeding hearts - use their authority and deport
these migrant workers?
What's the point of a law against infiltration that makes it possible to
shut up people for three years without trying them, and what's the logic in
cutting millions of shekels out of the education, health and welfare
budgets, only to build the largest confinement center on earth? After all,
if - as Yishai contends - "only one thousandth" of them are real refugees,
we could deport most of them immediately.
The interior minister has never answered questions on this subject, and the
reason is simple: The people who are not refugees and asylum seekers are
arrested and deported immediately after they enter Israel, as part of a
regulation known as Ketziot-Ben-Gurion Airport. The rest - more than 85
percent - have fled Eritrea and Sudan, and we can't deport them. We can't
deport them because even after South Sudan became an independent state, the
situation there is unstable, and Eritrea, as Deputy Foreign Minister Danny
Ayalon has declared, "does not uphold human rights, and anyone who goes back
there is in danger, including the danger of death."
We can't deport them because the UN refugee agency has said they can't be
sent back to those countries safely. We can't deport them because it is
immoral and unconstitutional, and it contravenes the UN refugee treaty of
1951 and other treaties Israel has signed. In other Western countries, 84
percent of the Eritreans and 64 percent of the Sudanese have been recognized
That's why those "infiltrators" who are clearly refugees and asylum seekers
are still among us. And they must remain among us until the situation in
their home countries allows them to return. This challenge must not be taken
lightly; we mustn't shrink from it, and certainly not distort the facts, as
the government is doing.
If that's the case, why do Netanyahu and Yishai continue to claim that these
people are migrant workers? Why don't they make it clear that they are
acting in accordance with the refugee treaty and that from the moral and
legal standpoint, Israel has no alternative?
And why do they continue to claim that we're talking about migrant workers
when the Interior Ministry, at Yishai's behest, refuses to examine the
asylum requests of Eritrean and Sudanese citizens? The government claims
that they are not refugees because they have not been recognized as such.
But how can Eritreans and Sudanese be recognized as refugees if Israel
forbids them to submit requests to be recognized as such?
The only reason is that the claim that they are migrant workers is aimed at
hardening our hearts against the distress of these people, who have fled
their homes in all kinds of ways. It's the kind of distress we should be
well aware of. When our hearts are completely hardened - and the mood shows
we're near that - Yishai and his cronies will be able to do with the
refugees and asylum seekers whatever they wish, including locking them up
for years and deporting them back to hell. The High Court of Justice will
not dare intervene and the public will remain silent.
That must not be allowed to happen; certainly not in a country that was set
up as a country of refuge. Until the refugees can return to their own
countries, we have a duty - which is also a great privilege - to host them
here and ensure them a place, a place that is also ours, in this world, at
The writer is responsible for refugees at the Center for Assistance to the
Community of Foreign Workers.
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Received on Mon Dec 26 2011 - 13:46:05 EST