Israel tells Africans to leave or face prison

Israel is telling black Africans they must leave now or face an indefinite stay in prison.

Israeli authorities are sending letters to the first of 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, informing them they have 30 days to accept Israel’s offer of $3,500 in cash and a one-way ticket home or to an unnamed third country in Africa, or face incarceration at Saharonim prison.

Israeli leaders have proclaimed that their tough approach — building a fence along its border, denying work permits for illegal migrants, forcing them into a detention center in the desert — may ultimately save lives by dissuading migrants from attempting a perilous journey. Critics of the Israeli policy counter that a country built by refugees should be more accepting of those fleeing war, poverty and oppression.

But these days, even liberal Europe is considering a more muscular approach. The European Union began a push Monday for U.N. authorization to deploy military force in the Mediterranean to stop migrant smuggling ships.

The new measures to press the Africans to leave Israel comes at a time of heightened fears among the refugees, who were stunned last month by a widely circulated video allegedly showing three Eritreans who left Israel killed by Islamic State militants in Libya. Friends and relatives said they had traveled there in a bid to reach Europe.

“We saw the video, but we thought maybe it wasn’t true, maybe it was just a hoax,” said Aman Beyene, an Eritrean asylum seeker who has spent 14 months at an Israeli detention center.

“Then we spoke to an Eritrean boy who had witnessed the killings, and we knew it was true,” Beyene said.

The 38-year-old Eritrean accountant sat at a picnic table in the dirt parking lot of the Holot detention facility, a compound of single-story cement-block dormitories housing 2,000 Africans, surrounded by a fence spooled with razor wire in the Negev desert.

Beyene spoke slowly as he recalled watching the video showing a man thought to be his friend Tesfay Kidane, 29, dressed in an orange jumpsuit beheaded on a beach in Libya by Muslim extremists. He said Kidane felt despondent being cooped at the Holot facility, so he accepted the Israelis’ offer to be flown to a third country — likely Uganda or Rwanda — and from there made his way to Libya, where he was kidnapped by the Islamic State.

Though the detainees at Holot are free to leave the compound during the day, the nearest city is an hour’s bus ride away and the men are forbidden to work. If they fail to return by nightfall, they are sent to a prison across the street.

Interviews with Eritreans and Sudanese at Holot suggest that many are still dreaming of reaching Europe through the chaos of Libya — despite knowing that more than 1,800 Africans have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year and others have been taken captive by the Islamic State.

“Being beheaded by ISIS or sinking on a boat is scary,” said Mutasim Ali, 28, who arrived in Israel in 2009 from the Darfur region in Sudan and has spent the past year detained in the detention center. “But you can’t really stay here, wasting your life, doing nothing.”

He pointed to the men like him who spend their days milling about in circles, staring at their mobile phones, waiting for the next meal.

Before Israel began cracking down on African migrants a few years ago, the Africans were highly visible in bustling cities, working in kitchens and doing menial labor. There are still neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv filled with Africans. Many Israelis complained they were being “invaded.”

Source: Washington Post