News / Middle East

    African Asylum Seekers in Limbo at Israeli Detention Center

    African Asylum Seekers in Limbo at Israeli Detention Centeri
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    Scott Bobb
    March 26, 2014 6:09 PM
    The Israeli Supreme Court is due to begin hearings April 1 on a controversial law that has allowed the government to detain thousands of African migrants who are seeking political asylum. The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, say they fled repression in their home countries, but the Israeli government says they are merely looking for work. VOA’s Scott Bobb visited the detention center in Holot, near Israel’s border with Egypt, and has this report.
    Scott Bobb
    The Israeli Supreme Court is due to begin hearings in April on a controversial law that has allowed the government to detain thousands of African migrants who are seeking political asylum.

    The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, say they fled repression in their home countries, but the Israeli government says they are in Israel mainly looking for work.

    At the Holot detention center near Israel's border with Egypt, residents were outside one day recently, chatting and passing the time. One of the youngest was Nuraddin Ismail, a slender man from Darfur, Sudan.
     
    Ismail has been a refugee for nearly a decade. He fled his home after government forces destroyed his village and arrested him. He was 16 years old.
     
    "They targeted me as if I belonged to the rebels," he said. "I was arrested twice. That's why I can't live a normal life there like anyone else. So I left my country," he said.
     
    Ismail spent four years in Chad and Libya before crossing Egypt's Sinai desert into Israel. His family remained behind in a refugee camp.
     
    Ismail said many asylum-seekers were killed trying to cross the Sinai. Rights groups say others have been held for ransom, beaten and raped.
     
    Those who make it to Israel are allowed by the government to stay while they apply for political asylum.
     
    In the early years of the refugee movements, some found low-paying jobs, primarily with hotels, restaurants or cleaning companies. Often they would join together in groups to rent a small apartment.
     
    But in the last seven years, their numbers grew to more than 50,000. Many were concentrated in poor urban areas, whose other residents often resented the Africans' presence. The immigrants were blamed for rising crime rates, but police say this is not true.
     
    Border fence

    Alarmed by the growing number of immigrants as well as by a rise in cross-border terrorist attacks, the Israeli government built a five-meter-high fence with sophisticated detection equipment along the border with Egypt . The fence, 230 kilometers long, was completed in January 2013, and it has almost eliminated the influx of new migrants.
     
    But the government decided to go further. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament earlier this year that he is "determined to remove from here those who succeeded in entering before we closed the border."
     
    "These are not refugees,” he said. “We are talking about illegal workers infiltrating, and we are determined to bring them to justice."
     
    A law passed in 2012 authorized detention of illegal migrants for up to three years, but Israeli courts overturned it.
     
    The government passed a new law last year that allows it to detain illegal migrants for up to one year at the Holot facility.
     
    Return offer
     
    Israel also offered migrants $3,500 and a free ticket home - or to a third country - Uganda, according to news reports, which both Israeli and Ugandan governments have denied.
     
    The law allows the government to detain indefinitely those migrants who refuse the return offer. Israeli rights groups are challenging the law before the Supreme Court.
     
    In December authorities began ordering asylum-seekers to report to Holot or be sent to nearby Saharonim prison. They say Holot's population has doubled each month, reaching 1,500 in March, according to Interior Minister Giedon Sa'ar. It can hold up to 3,000 people.
     
    Holot facility
     
    The government calls Holot an "open facility." Residents are allowed to leave during the day, but they must report in three times during the hours they are outside. Failing to do so could send a camp resident to Saharonim prison. Visitors, including reporters, are not allowed.
     
    The rules allow the residents enough time to visit Beer Sheba, the regional hub, one hour away. It is not enough time to travel to Tel Aviv or central Israel, however, where most of the migrants' families and friends live.
     
    Thirty-six-year-old Emmanuel Abraha, who arrived in Israel five years ago after deserting from the Eritrean army, said: "Holot is not a prison. But it's certainly not an open facility. There is no trial, but there's no hope you'll be released. It feels like life imprisonment."
     
    He said conditions are difficult. Residents are not allowed to bring in food or have guests.
     
    Thirty-three year-old Adwar Souleiman, who came from Darfur, recalled how many Israelis' forebears suffered for centuries as refugees, and said the African migrants should be treated less harshly.
     
    "We are human beings,” he said. “We fled our country because we have problems," he said. "Israel, like any democratic country, must take responsibility for us. We are not against the government, the citizens or the Jewish religion."
     
    The government said nearly 4,000 migrants have accepted the return offer and left since the beginning of the year. Many others have turned it down, though, saying it is better to live in limbo at Holot.
     
    Nouraddin Ismail said if he returns home, the Sudanese government will suspect him of being an Israeli spy.

    "I only have two choices," he said. "I stay here forever, or I go back to my country and get killed."

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: anon89
    April 12, 2014 5:55 PM
    South Africa is reducing it's political refugee numbers while numbers continue to swell inside the EU, Israel, Australia, etc. because of their own reforms to control the numbers: http://www.irinnews.org/report/92286/south-africa-new-laws-mean-new-hurdles-for-asylum-seekers; while refugees do not protest there. Nor do they seek political asylum in the African nations they travel through to get the sea. They continue to flood nations outside of Africa with better economic conditions then break out into violence when their political asylum status is questioned according to that nation's policies; and/or when they are not automatically given work and living conditions to their satisfaction. And their solution is to break out in violence and call the host nations "racists." This is happening more and more in places like Greece, France, Italy, Australia, Israel, Germany, etc. Apparently smuggling refugees out of Africa is big business in Africa and some are making big profits from it, yet no one questions their practice? So, yes, why don't these refugees seek asylum in places like Saudia Arabia, Dubai, India? The United African nations would not tolerate protests and violence and their laws require immediate deportation; immediate deportation is the lawful and correct thing to do for any host nation. There are increasing news reports of refugees violence in host nations and they are beginning to look more like terrorists than anything else. Anyone shaming a nation for resorting to immediate deportation and/or imprisonment of these hostile "guests" obviously don't live in the "host" communities where living conditions are being degraded and worsened by the day with numbers of indigent peoples too great to sustain. The solution is to now pay them to leave, and you can see where that will, more people coming over to get the paid to leave. Why can't Africa get it's own act together?

    by: wenyin from: canada
    March 27, 2014 10:06 PM
    My heart goes out to these assylum seekers but, make no mistake Israel have not done anything to the contrary. We all know that United Nation demends that Israel stops settling Phalastinian's refugees. I've always wondered, why don't muslim refugees seek assylum in those oil rich muslim's countries like Saudi Arabia..etc ?
    Why do they choose Israel since they consider it an enemy state to all muslims? They don't even show Israeli's map in their educational materials! These people are into something and Israel have the right to send them back.

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