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Flip-flopping over asylum seekers’ lives

  • Refugees
Within hours of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a deal with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on April 2 not to send 40 000 African asylum seekers to Africa, he froze the agreement. By the next day, he cancelled it.
by SAM ANCER | Apr 12, 2018

The international community and civil rights groups inside Israel went from being so happy with the decision that would allow the African asylum seekers an opportunity to gain either refugee status in various European states or temporary residence in Israel, to furious.

The SA Jewish Report spoke to South African-born Dr Diddy Mymin Kahn, the founder of Kuchinate, an African refugee women’s collective involved in helping female asylum seekers in southern Tel Aviv.

“The initial statement by Netanyahu that the deportation was cancelled and that there was an agreement made with the UNHRC was met with jubilation,” says Kahn. For possibly the first time in these asylum seekers lives, they had hope for the future, she adds.

Those hopes were just as quickly dashed by Netanyahu and his decision to cancel the agreement. Kahn says: “The reaction of the entire community that supports the asylum seekers, and the asylum seekers themselves, has been one of shock and disbelief at this flip-flopping.”

Protests took place outside Ugandan embassies across the world, as part of efforts to ensure that the asylum seekers were not deported there. Netanyahu admitted during an April 2 press conference that there was never an agreement with Rwanda to send the asylum seekers there – the initial plan to do so had fallen apart.

“Now it [the Israeli government] is trying to get an agreement with Uganda, which is why all of the protests are being directed against the Ugandan consulates or embassies – to get them to understand that this is a very bad idea,” says Kahn.

“The asylum-seeking community is so disempowered as it is. They are so used to having their human rights violated.”

They have nowhere to go and no discernible future ahead of them, she explains. “Everyone is in limbo, waiting to see what is going to happen.”

While things seem bleak for asylum seekers at the moment, there is solace in the fact civil rights groups are working tirelessly to ensure their safety and security.

“The whole community [of human rights activists] are determined to continue protesting against deportation and to see the conclusion to this issue along the lines of what Netanyahu and the UNHRC came out with last Monday. Because that seems to be a decision that would be in the interests of the asylum seekers, of Israel at large and of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”

It seems that Netanyahu made the decision to reverse his initial agreement after pressure from the Israeli right wing community, according to Kahn.

“They were horrified with the agreement that he had signed with the UNHRC. It was not so much because they were going to resettle 16 000 asylum seekers – which would have pleased them, you would think. It would definitely have pleased the asylum seekers, who would like to go to a country where they could …eventually get citizenship.

“They came out against the fact that the remaining 23 000 would be dispersed in Israel and get temporary residence. This means they would have access to the same social rights, work permits, health rights, social services, etc.”

Kahn says: “It doesn’t make logical sense that [the right wing faction in Israel] were against the agreement. Basically, the right in Israel believes that the asylum seekers are not asylum seekers but economic migrants with no right to request refugee status – because they aren’t refugees.

“Compare this to Europe – look at Germany and at England, where over 80% of Eritreans have received refugee status. Getting this status means they would be in danger of death or persecution if they returned to their home country. In Israel, they don’t seem to think this is the case.”

Israel does not seem to believe that asylum seekers from Eritrea deserve refugee status. “Out of all of the asylum seekers in Israel, there are only 12 who have got refugee status, meaning that they have access to social rights. That is not 12%, it is 12 people.”

While the situation is abominable, Netanyahu has provided civil rights groups with something to rally together against. “This has hit a strong chord with Israelis, given our collective history of persecution, of being refugees ourselves. And this has created a much larger core of Israelis who have got off the fence and been supportive of the asylum seekers.”

In fact, Netanyahu’s flip-flopping may have eroded some of his voter base. “There are even Israeli right wingers who are horrified at the way Netanyahu has been acting.”

The Israeli government’s alternative is to ship asylum seekers to Africa, which has had horrible results for those involved. “We already know what happens from people who have chosen ‘voluntary deportation’ rather than indefinite prison. There are many stories that have come in about how they have been in dire straits since they left Israel for Rwanda, Uganda or Libya. People have been killed or have died in their journeys.”

While the situation in south Tel Aviv may be dire, the response from the international community and many Israeli citizens has shown that it won’t be easy for Netanyahu to proceed with the plan to deport these asylum seekers back to Africa.

“I don’t think anyone really believes that this is going to happen. There are protests everywhere to make sure that it does not happen.”

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