Eritrean riot intensifies exclusion of asylum seekers
In the Kuchinate studio, a sanctuary for asylum-seeking women from various African countries, a sense of shock and horror lingers after the unprecedented recent violence. Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv who are against the regime in Eritrea implored the police to cancel an event organised by the Eritrean embassy that was celebrating the country’s dictatorship.
This request fell on deaf ears, and what followed was an outbreak of unprecedented violence, with the police ill-equipped to handle the situation, resulting in dozens of injuries among law enforcement and rioters, including the use of live ammunition by the police.
This tragic event could and should have been prevented, and left many of Kuchinate’s families living in fear. One non-Eritrean artisan, leaving church, found herself caught in the police brutality, forced to flee amidst the bullets flying around her.
Caution prevails, as many are now afraid to leave their homes and venture out to work. The women are supporting one another, rewatching videos of the harrowing violence on social media, and have received many concerned calls from family members in the diaspora. Some parents kept their children home from school this week, shielding them from the haunting images of violence.
In Israel, Eritrean asylum seekers face a precarious existence, lacking legal status and access to rights and services. They aren’t “illegal infiltrators”, as the Israeli government labels them, but individuals who have fled the oppressive regime in Eritrea.
Escaping the clutches of the Eritrean dictatorship, enduring human trafficking, torture, and gendered violence along their migration journey, and facing policies in Israel that aim to make their lives miserable, requires immense strength and resilience.
For years, Eritrean asylum seekers have lived under a temporary protection policy, striving to build their lives and raise their families. However, they remain trapped in limbo, with no prospects for a future in Israel. They have resided in the country for up to 15 years without legal status, basic rights, access to healthcare, or stable employment.
Though only a few have been recognised as refugees by Israel, other countries in the global north have recognition rates as high as 90%. This context cannot be overlooked when examining the events of the weekend. These individuals have fled their homeland, leaving behind their families and lives, seeking safety and a chance at a better future.
The recent outbreak of violence within the Eritrean community, involving both police and protesters, is a tragedy that could have been prevented.
Similar events by Eritrean embassies abroad, seen as a celebration of the dictatorship, attracted both pro and anti-government protesters, and resulted in violent clashes.
The recent event in South Tel Aviv left many wounded, some critically, and numerous individuals have been imprisoned. This should serve as a moment for the Israeli government to reflect and investigate, aiming to prevent such tragedies from recurring.
However, it has instead become a catalyst for the government to expedite its long-standing desire to deport asylum seekers. Sending those who oppose the Eritrean regime back to their home country would subject them to imprisonment or even death, violating international law and the principle of non-refoulement.
These clashes are already being exploited to fuel racist extremism and anti-refugee sentiment, furthering the government’s agenda and narrative that these individuals are economic migrants, infiltrators, and criminals. Instead, we should use this moment to introspect, considering the plight of the 18 000 asylum seekers left in Israel without access to basic rights.
As a nation that has experienced persecution and once sought refuge ourselves, we should approach this situation with empathy and compassion, rejecting outright the idea of deporting asylum seekers to potential imprisonment or death. This community, already living in limbo and facing uncertainty, racism, and xenophobia, worries about the profound impact on itself and its families. It fears the policies being expressed by the government such as administrative detention and mass deportation.
To be clear, we don’t condone violence of any kind, and are advocating for the rights of the peaceful, hard-working, genuine asylum seekers living in Israel. These clashes have sadly only intensified the racialisation, criminalisation, and exclusion of asylum seekers, a community that already struggles with limited hope.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to stand up for the rights of asylum seekers. They, too, deserve to live in peace and dignity, to thrive rather than merely survive.
- South African-born clinical psychologist and trauma specialist in humanitarian aid and intervention, Dr Diddy Mymin Kahn, is a King David Linksfield alumnus and the co-founder and chief executive of Kuchinate, an arts based economic and psychosocial collective of African asylum-seeking women.