As the rest of the world remains silent, except for a few voices, the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority has recently begun sending deportation notices to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan.
The campaign of “increased removal,” as the Israeli government calls it, has officially in Tel Aviv, with the delivery of orders to leave the country to some 200 Eritreans. In the coming days, those coming to the authorities for the renewal of their residence visas will receive their last valid visa, together with a written notice stating that they must leave in the next 60 days. Otherwise they risk being jailed indefinitely.
This is the latest and most decisive step taken by the Netanyahu government to implement its policy of denying the rights of those who have fled abuse, torture, maltreatment and war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this is meant to defend the “Jewish character” of Israel, which, he says, is being threatened by the presence of the African asylum seekers (less than 40,000 in total).
Netanyahu had virulent criticism for those in Israel who are opposed to the deportations and accused the Jewish billionaire George Soros of financing the protests of local NGOs and associations against his government, especially the New Israel Fund, which has been a favorite target of the Israeli right for years.
“Today we began an operation to remove illegal infiltrators [African asylum seekers] from Israel, just as other modern countries do, chiefly the United States,” he wrote on Facebook, giving assurance that “I will keep my promise to remove infiltrators to our country.”
Netanyahu took up the themes of an anti-Soros campaign initiated last year by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who accused the aging billionaire of orchestrating the migration of millions of Syrians and refugees from various countries to Europe. Soros’s face appeared on billboards throughout Hungary, accompanied by words and slogans at the very limit of anti-Semitism.
But Netanyanu was not disturbed by any of this, as he continues to see Orban as one of his main allies. And he remained indifferent to the harsh criticism he received from the leader of Meretz (the Zionist left) in the Knesset, Tamar Zandberg, who denounced the close relations between Likud, the party of the prime minister, and political forces tied to the European extreme right.
Soros, for his part, denied the allegations of the attacks against him, not forgetting to remind Israel that “in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention and international law, it is wrong to forcibly send asylum seekers back to countries where they might be persecuted or killed.”
That is also the opinion of the activists, academics and religious figures who in recent weeks have been urging the Israeli government to put a stop to this plan. Holocaust survivors have also come out against the deportations, as well as pilots who announced they would refuse to fly the planes with the migrants who are being sent to Africa against their will. Some kibbutzim plan to give shelter to those who are being hit with deportation orders and wanted by the police.
Many entrepreneurs have also come out against the deportations, in defense of their economic interest, as they claim that the sudden expulsion of so much cheap labor is likely to hurt them in the end. The government moved to reassure them by approving the increase of the maximum number of foreign workers allowed in the construction industry by 6,000, to a total of 16,500, and revoking the rule that forbade companies to advertise publicly for workers from other countries.
For now, deportation notices are not being issued to women, children and fathers of children. Those who are from Darfur can stay, but their future remains uncertain. Those who agree to leave “voluntarily” will receive $3,500 and a plane ticket, or they will risk indefinite imprisonment.
Israel claims that in the “third country” it wants to send them to, Rwanda, with which it says it has signed agreements, asylum seekers will be able to settle down and go back to a normal life. That promise is very different from what many Africans who have left Israel in recent months have said is actually happening, and it remains fraught with unknowns.
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