Seeking refuge in Israel
Israel ’s policy of failing to give asylum to refugees is an unfortunate decision. Most of the refugees that seek asylum in Israel are from Christian persecuting countries such as Sudan and Eritrea .
By Rory McCarthy
05/02/2008 Israel (adalvoice)-The shelter is in one of the poorest parts of Tel Aviv, an area of run-down strip joints, cheap cafes and patrolling police cars.
There is no sign on the door but the overcrowded four-storey building is now home to at least 200 African asylum seekers, their numbers growing by the day in a new and sudden rush of migrants pouring into Israel.
Occasionally they are rounded up by police and jailed, only to be released again weeks, sometimes months later. Some are lucky enough to secure short-term work permits, though with heavy restrictions; very few ever get the official refugee status they seek and which some among them doubtless deserve.
In the past five years the number of people crossing on foot through the desert from Egypt into southern Israel has increased dramatically: from several hundred in 2006, to more than 5,000 last year and already at least 2,200 in the first three months of this year alone.
At first most were from Sudan , some from Darfur but many more from the south of the country where they also faced political persecution and human rights violations.
Many had already spent months or years seeking asylum elsewhere, particularly in Egypt .
But then the Egyptian authorities began a crackdown – including one notorious incident in December 2005, when police killed 27 Sudanese migrants in an attack on a makeshift camp in Cairo . That in turn encouraged thousands of others to escape and take the risk of crossing through the desert and into Israel .
Today they continue to come, the numbers now including many Eritreans, again escaping political persecution at home.
Some of the migrants are Muslims, many more are Christians. For Israel , a country built largely on the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, this issue has sparked a particularly intense debate.
But critics say the government’s response has been haphazard and has fallen short of the requirements of the international convention on refugees.
Anat Ben-Dor is a lawyer who helps run a legal clinic at Tel Aviv University where for the past five years law students and lawyers have given free support to those seeking asylum.
When the Sudanese first began arriving they were arrested because they came from what is still regarded as an “enemy” country in Israel ’s on-going conflict with the Arab world.
Later they were released in their hundreds and allowed to work, particularly in resorts like Eilat, but only under stringent conditions.
Then there was an outcry last year when 48 migrants, mostly Sudanese, were deported to Egypt where some were arrested and went missing, and others were sent back to Sudan .