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An Inhuman Trade



Dr Diddy Mymin Kahn

Many suffered treacherous journeys en route to Israel, surviving unspeakable horrors while having money cruelly extorted from them in the now notorious Sinai torture camps.

The government of Israel does not recognise their suffering nor their need, and views them as “infiltrators”. It only wants to be rid of their undesirable presence.

Israel has announced plans to begin deporting asylum seekers of Eritrean and Sudanese origins to Rwanda within weeks. The Israeli government is allegedly offering to pay Rwanda $5 000 (R60 200) per deported asylum seeker.

The plan is to deport the asylum seekers in stages, beginning with single men. As an incentive, the ministry of the interior has offered $3 500 (R42 000) to individuals who “choose” to leave the country by a given date. Those who do not leave at the allotted time have been told that they will be imprisoned indefinitely.

It is well known that deportation will put the lives of thousands of individuals at risk.

Experience from previous deportations from Israel demonstrates that asylum seekers in Rwanda do not have access to refugee status, and find themselves having to continue their journeys and seek protection elsewhere.

This again puts them in a very vulnerable position and exposes them to the risk of once again being smuggled, extorted, tortured, enslaved or killed.

I work with the refugee communities in Israel and, unfortunately, I’ve heard countless testimonies of suffering that this population has been through. It pains me to think that we are adding to their suffering rather than being the hosts of their rehabilitation. For example, B shared her story with me: she fled Eritrea, a dictatorship known as the “North Korea of Africa”, after her husband was arrested by the military for an undisclosed reason. That was the last she ever saw of him. She began to be interrogated and intimidated by the military, who wanted to obtain information from her about her husband. She was threatened with imprisonment unless she disclosed information. She sold all her belongings and fled to Sudan, where she ended up in a refugee camp. Walking outside the camp one day, she was kidnapped by human traffickers and taken with a group of 20 people to the Sinai desert.

On the way, she was deprived of food and was given water laced with gasoline. The group were hidden under blankets and goods in a truck. Two people died of starvation on the journey. When they arrived in the Sinai, they were sold to another group.

The aim of the human traffickers who bought them was to extort as much money as possible. This was done by forcing them to call home while being tortured.

B was chained to other people, deprived of sleep, beaten and taken out of the compound on a nightly basis to be raped by a group of men. She witnessed men being hung upside down while they were beaten and had hot plastic dripped on their backs. Her parents sold their home and paid the ransom. She eventually crossed the border and arrived in Israel, emaciated and traumatised. She did not know if she was alive or dead.

Over the years she has rehabilitated herself, survived and lived to tell her story. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and has been struggling to maintain herself economically.

She relies on the welfare of human rights organisations and friends. Imagine if someone like B is deported to Rwanda. She, and many of the women and children like her, will probably die. This is not alarmist or hysterical. It is highly probable.

We must never forget Israel is itself a state that is made up of refugees. It is beyond comprehension that our government’s solution for the refugee problem is to deport them, abandoning them to possible persecution and death.

As one of the first signatories to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel has a legal and ethical obligation to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection.

Moreover, deportations contradict Israel’s moral history and its identity as a Jewish and democratic state. We need to strive to find a practical, humane and just solution which is aligned with international law and Jewish values.

As a nation that has absorbed millions of Jewish migrants successfully, this model of excellence could be used to absorb the non-Jewish migrants – the 38 000 African asylum seekers.

Until the conditions exist for their safe return to their home countries, Israel must grant them a legal status that enables them to access their human rights.

With refugee status, asylum seekers would be able to live a life of dignity, working, rehabilitating, surviving and thriving.

Ministers and public figures need to examine their harsh resistance to refugees which incites the masses and produces inhumane solutions. They have a responsibility to contribute positively to the refugee crisis that has affected nearly every society across the world.

Israel’s plan to trade thousands of asylum seekers to African countries against their will is anathema to, and not becoming of, a democratic Jewish state in the 21st century.

Dr Diddy Mymin Kahn is the co-founder and director of Kuchinate, an African Refugee Women’s Collective. She is originally from South Africa. She is a clinical psychologist and trauma specialist in humanitarian aid and intervention. She has over 22 years of experience working in the UK, Hong Kong, Israel, Sierra Leone and Haiti as a psychologist, supervisor, trainer and group facilitator. Find out more about the organisation on

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nat cheiman

    Jan 25, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    ‘I disagree. These are mainly economic migrants who could have fled to neighbouring countries but choose Israel.

    They are not Jewish so let Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon, Greece, Germany, Italy or Russia take them.

    Better still, let Pope Francis take them. He is always telling nations to have empathy. The Vatican will be a good place to house these layabouts and perhaps one day one of them will become a pope or maybe covert the papacy to Islam.

    I cannot understand Jews trying to take in NON JEWISH migrants int a Jewish state.

    Its treacherous.

    If America doesn’t want them, why should Israel take them?’

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