Why are African refugees solely Israel’s problem?

Israeli soldiers stand guard over Eritrean asylum seekers behind a border fence

Israeli soldiers stand guard over Eritrean asylum seekers behind a border fence

A group of Eritrean refugees has become trapped on Israel’s border with Egypt after trying to cross illegally into Israel, behind the new security fence that has finally been constructed along the border’s length.  Israel is refusing to allow entry to the refugees, saying that they can return to their country of origin. Human rights activists say they cannot return due to the fear of persecution.

The usual suspects are demanding that Israel admit these refugees forthwith, with no preconditions. The envoy of the UN Human Rights Commission in Israel is urging Israel to admit them.  Yes, that Human Rights Commission. The one that can think of nothing positive to say about Israel at all and that never met a terrorist it couldn’t like.  As far as the UNHRC is concerned, Israel suddenly gains morality when it can be persuaded to act against its own best interests and admit illegal migrants.

An uproar over Israel’s refusal to allow entry to some 20 Eritreans trapped just beyond the country’s southern border fence has prompted a United Nations envoy to plead the asylum seekers’ case.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Israel, William Tall, expressed concern for the fate of the migrants, and urged the Jewish state to allow them in.

Tall noted that Israel’s commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention obligates the country to allow these migrants in and review their eligibility for refugee status.

The envoy branded any attempt to force asylum seekers to return to Egypt, where they face the risk of being captured by traffickers, as “irresponsible,” stressing that African migrants have been subjected to torture and abuse in the past.

So rather than urging Egypt to clean up its act, and rather than urging Egypt to admit the refugees, it is all Israel’s duty simply because it is a decent moral country.

What was the point of building the security fence if any refugee that manages to reach it is to be allowed freely into Israel? Are other countries so generous with their border control? I think not.

It’s not only the UNHRC that takes this position. A group from Doctors for Human Rights (I think they mean Physicians for Human Rights – which itself does not have an unbiased record on Israel) complained that they were being barred from accessing the refugees.

The doctors wanted to offer medical assistance to the asylum seekers, but were forbidden to approach them by the army. The group, which has been stuck between two fences at the border for a week, is made up of 21 people, among them a 14-year-old boy and a woman who suffered a miscarriage.

“There are people in trouble. It is inconceivable that we can’t offer them aid,” said Dr. Kobi Arad.

The High Court of Justice was scheduled to hear a petition Thursday to compel the defense and interior ministers to grant the migrants permission to enter the country.

The Israeli advocacy group “We Are Refugees” also asked the Court to order authorities to provide food, water and medical care to the individuals.

That’s nice. First smear Israel. Then check the facts. See highlighted part below.

The petitioners claim that the Eritrean migrants face imminent danger in their country of origin, and that the state cannot abandon them.

The State Attorney’s Office asked the court to reject the petition, claiming that the state had a right to determine who is allowed to enter its borders. The statement said that the army was instructed to give the migrants basic sustenance and, if necessary, also medical attention.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Wednesday that the group would not be allowed into Israel.

The group made it past the first of two security fences, but were stopped before crossing into Israel. Too scared to backtrack through Sinai, the Eritreans have been sitting in the sun without food or water save for a few beverages they have been given by Israeli soldiers.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled Wednesday that Israel “has no legal obligation” to let the group of migrants enter beyond the fence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “According to international practice and precedence, the fence is the actual border, so whoever has not crossed it is not [located] in Israeli territory, and does not have an automatic right to enter.”

The statement further added that there is no international confirmation that the migrants are persecuted or facing grave danger in Egypt, and that Israel is therefore not obliged to let them through.

Human rights groups claimed Tuesday that the territory the migrants are in is technically Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel stated: “Israel has every right to build a border fence, but this fence does not exempt it from its duties.”

[...]

Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On, on her Facebook page, criticized Yishai’s “brutal, xenophobic” decision not to allow the migrants into the country. She said the minister’s move was “not only immoral but also illegal under international law, which determines that refugees who are persecuted in their country, and who face danger if they return there, can be granted political asylum.”

Gal-On is wrong on every count. It is not a “brutal or xenophobic decision” not to allow the refugees into the country. It is the act of a normal democratic country which is permitted, as is every other country in the world, to decide who is and who isn’t allowed in. Neither is it immoral – since when is it immoral to care more for your own citizens than for another country’s?

As for “illegal under international law”, as AG Weinstein himself points out, it is perfectly within Israel’s rights to reject their entry. International law is a very convenient stick with which to beat Israel whenever it does something that the Left doesn’t like, from building houses for Jewish Israelis on land liberated in 1967, to defending itself from rocket fire, to killing terrorists.  International law seems to be applied only to Israel, and never to its adversaries or enemies, or even to miserable refugees, and a law that is unevenly applied is not a just law or a valid one.  The phrase has been overused to such an extent that it has lost all meaning and has become an irrelevance to most Israelis.

Back to the ToI article:

Earlier Wednesday, Gal-On had called on Yishai to allow the group to enter Israel and to reassess their status.

Groups of activists traveled to the Israeli-Egyptian border Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to deliver food and water to the group. They claimed they were not allowed to deliver the goods to the Eritreans personally — but were promised by the IDF that soldiers would distribute the items.

“They [the IDF] were determined not to let us pass, and threatened to arrest us — and they meant it. In negotiations with the soldiers, the battalion commander proposed we leave the food behind, and that they would deliver it to the migrants,” one activist told Haaretz.

The High Court in the end only deferred a decision on the awkward situation:

The High Court ruled Thursday that it will hold another hearing into the petition filed by the ‘We are Refugees’ organization on behalf of the Eritreans camped out at the border fence on the Egyptian border.

The judges ruled that the State needed to present an updated position by the next hearing. This means that the group of 20 Eritreans will remain between the two borders until Sunday.

[...]

During the High Court hearing, judges asked whether the asylum seekers were on the actual border or within Israeli territory. A representative for the State said that the fence was a few meters within Israeli territory as: “You cannot build a border fence within Egyptian territory.”

The ‘We are Refugees’ activists asked to obligate Defense minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Eli Yishai to allow the Eritreans into Israel and examine their request for international asylum in Israel. The petitioners asked for an urgent hearing and were granted the hearing by Justice Esther Hayut.

Supreme Court President Justice Asher Grunis, Justice Neal Hendel and Justice Hanan Meltzer presided over the hearing. The Gaza Brigade commander was also present.

The State’s response to the petition noted that: “On the humanitarian front, without taking away from the State’s claims with regards to the (petitioner’s) foundationless claims on refugee laws, the military forces are working to provide the group with basic foodstuffs, water and should the need arise (and it is hoped that it will not) essential medical and humanitarian care as needed.”

In response to the petitioner’s claim that Israel is obligated to open its doors to Eritreans based on the argument that Eritrean citizens are not sent back to their country…our stance is that the argument has no legal foundation.”

The State argued that the basic assumption is that “Israel is a sovereign state and as such has the right to decide who is allowed to come through its gates. As such it is allowed to construct a fence separating it from Egypt.”

The State’s representative, Attorney Yochi Gensin argued that Egypt, which is also a signatory of the Refugee Convention, was the country responsible for absorbing the asylum seekers and examining their asylum status.

Attorney Omer Shatz who is representing the petitioners said that the fence was efficient and allowed the State to examine whether asylum seekers are in fact just that or work migrants, but added: “To stick up a fence and say ‘the legal status has changed’ – we don’t accept that. The fence is effective; there is a 90% drop in the number of infiltrators.”

It’s a rotten situation both for the refugees and for Israel, which of course will be damned whatever it does. If it rejects asylum, we will be accused of xenophobia, racism, immorality, and any other modern plague you can think of. And if Israel does admit them, we can expect another flood of refugees who will run up to the border fence and claim persecution in their land of origin and in Egypt. And Israel will be left once more to cope with the untrained, unskilled, often sick, poor and hungry refugees, as if we don’t have enough unemployment, poverty and disease in our society already. And in any event we’ll be accused of xenophobia, racism, immorality, and any other modern plague you can think of for not treating the refugees right, for not giving them perfect housing, employment opportunities, free medical treatment, food and education for their children.

Israel is not a refuge for every African migrant, however sorry we feel for them. A solution to their misery must be found outside Israel’s borders. I expect the Arab countries with their multi-billions of petro-dollars, and the African countries with their blood-diamond billionaires, to come to the aid of their brethren instead of dumping their poor on our doorstep.

Meanwhile I’m still waiting for the UNHRC and Physicians for Human Rights, not to mention all the other do-gooders, to urge Egypt to fulfill its duty towards human rights and dignity for all.

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22 Responses to Why are African refugees solely Israel’s problem?

  1. Pete says:

    I don’t think that Israel needs to lump all refugees into the same category. A problem with refugees from Eritrea is fundamentally different than a problem with Palestinian refugees. You can’t paint all these problems the same color. Why doesn’t Israel just put these people on a bus and drive them to some other location that is more acceptable? Surely there must be a third-party dropoff that Israel can use?

    And in answer to the question – why is this ISREAL’S problem. The answer is simple. Because you built the fence. Sorry if that seems rather mundane and practical. But it’s how things are :-)

    • anneinpt says:

      A problem with refugees from Eritrea is fundamentally different than a problem with Palestinian refugees.

      True. But Israel is not being flooded with Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians, aka Arabs, who live in Israel and the surrounding territories, CLAIM they are refugees, but in fact are simply people who want to return to land that was captured or liberated in a defensive war. They are not homeless or jobless in the main. The problem with the Palestinian refugees is an artificial political problem rather than a desperate humanitarian crisis (no matter how they paint it).

      The African migrants are a whole different kettle of fish. They are streaming out of Africa, mainly Sudan and Eritrea, in their millions. They are terribly mistreated and abused by all the surrounding countries. Israel is the only “light amongst the nations” that will not shoot them, rape them or enslave them, and which will feed, heal and educate them and their children. But there’s a limit to how many people Israel can take in. Israel’s entire population is 7 million. That’s less than New York. I’m sure New Yorkers would not like to be flooded with hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees every year. It is simply not a viable situation.

      Why doesn’t Israel just put these people on a bus and drive them to some other location that is more acceptable? Surely there must be a third-party dropoff that Israel can use?

      If you could give us suggestions, we would be very happy to hear. The logical country would be Egypt, but as I wrote, they will not take them in, and in the Sinai (part of Egypt) they are terribly abused. In the past Israel requested from the UN and from Europe to help out – and we’re still waiting to hear an answer.

      why is this ISREAL’S problem. The answer is simple. Because you built the fence

      No, that is not an answer. That doesn’t even make sense. Israel built the fence in order to PREVENT precisely this problem. Having a border fence does not make a country obliged to admit refugees who arrive ON THE OTHER SIDE of that border fence. If that were so, the USA would have to admit all those millions of Mexicans and other South Americans who are so desperate to enter the US.

      This is not an acceptable situation and it shouldn’t be up to Israel alone to solve it.

    • cba says:

      Pete, from this comment and others, I think you don’t appreciate how very tiny Israel is. It’s about the size of New Jersey and–as you pointed out–large parts of it are within range of enemy rockets. We carry a HUGE tax burden as it is (we have a large welfare net, have many poor people, and have to pay an absolutely horrific amount to defend the country), and simply cannot take care of more refugees than there are citizens, which is what will happen if Israel doesn’t put a stop to the “open door” policy it pretty much had up until now. There are potentially MILLIONS of refugees from Africa (that’s not hyperbole, I literally mean “millions”) and Israel’s current population is under 8 million.

      My heart is sore for the refugees and what they’ve gone through, but we simply cannot be the refuge for all the unfortunates of the world.

      • Pete says:

        anne and cba … I sympathize with your problem about size and budgets.

        from the point of view of Americans – this subhect of fences, borders and immigration is a huge talking point. in fact we’re sick of hashing over all the same concerns about our own border with Mexico. believe me … we’ve been down the road that you’re going. all the same headaches, all the same debate. In the end, the only practical soluton for you (and us) is to put these people on a bus and send them somewhere.

        let’s look at why Israel MUST do this …

        1) It a human rights issue that could paint Israel in a bad light. This is exactly the wrong time for Israel to have a public image problem – you really need the world to support you on the Iran issue.
        2) It’s a security nightmare. Having these people on the outside of your fence – raises the possibility that another refugee camp will spring up on the fence. you really don’t want that.
        3) It’s a health concern. These refugees are potential carriers of communicable diseases.

        Bottom line … they need to go somewhere else.
        Your real challenge is figuring out where that place is.

        cheers,
        Pete

        • anneinpt says:

          In the end, the only practical soluton for you (and us) is to put these people on a bus and send them somewhere.

          Pete, this is fantasy. Do you have any idea of Israel’s geographical region? In the north: Lebanon and Syria. To the east: Jordan. To the south: Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And to the west: the sea. Where exactly would you suggest sending this proverbial bus to?

          let’s look at why Israel MUST do this …

          1) It a human rights issue that could paint Israel in a bad light.

          Yada yada… EVERYTHING Israel does is a human rights issue. It’s irrelevant. Let the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stop worry about the well-fed and educated, well-housed Palestinian refugees and worry about some real refugees for a change. Or else Egypt or Eritrea or some other African country can take care of these people’s human rights. They are NOT Israel’s responsibility, for the reasons that I and cba pointed out. As for how it will impact on world support on Iran, I don’t see the connection. The world will support or oppose Israel depending on their own narrow interests, and are not interested one jot in how Israel treats African refugees, especially as those same world countries are not exactly lining up to help the refugees themselves.

          2) It’s a security nightmare. Having these people on the outside of your fence –

          It’s an even bigger security nightmare having them INSIDE the fence.

          3) It’s a health concern. These refugees are potential carriers of communicable diseases.

          True. All the more reason to keep them outside.

  2. Linda says:

    I agree with you 100 percent! Great blog!

  3. peteca1 says:

    Looks like Israel resolved this problem in a reaonable way. 18 people were sent back to their homeland, and 3 were allowed to immigrate to Israel. Not bad as a practical solution.

    The big problem is this – what if it happens again? And next time there are several hundred people camped outside the fence? Israel will need to give this some thought. I don’t think you can ignore these people, shoot them, or just tell them to leave. Many observers, myself include, are wondering how on earth can they get to this location in the first place? It seems as though Israel’s neighbors are happy to allow this “problem” to become a public relations issue for Israel.

    Issues related to borders, fences and immigration are never easy to solve. But it’s fair to say that Israel will need to allocate “maintenance” for this new fence. And some of that maintenance may iinvolve solving the human problems, as well as the repair issues.

    Pete

    • anneinpt says:

      what if it happens again?

      It will definitely happen again.

      Israel will need to give this some thought. I don’t think you can ignore these people, shoot them, or just tell them to leave.

      Israel did give it some thought. Previously they all flooded into Israel and became Israel’s own problem, through no fault of its own; actually through its own generosity and foolishness. So Israel gave it some thought and built a fence to keep them out, just like every other country in the world.

      It seems as though Israel’s neighbors are happy to allow this “problem” to become a public relations issue for Israel.

      Bingo! You hit the nail on the head. And as a bonus, they don’t get to spend precious resources to take care of these refugees. It’s the Palestinian “refugee” issue redux.

      But it’s fair to say that Israel will need to allocate “maintenance” for this new fence.

      The fence has a huge budget. It cost hundreds of millions of dollars and several years to build and I’m sure it will be very expensive to maintain. But it’s not just to keep out refugees. It’s mainly intended to prevent terrorists and arms smuggling. It’s least worst solution out of a bunch of really bad solutions for that border.

  4. Earl says:

    I expect the Arab countries with their multi-billions of petro-dollars, and the African countries with their blood-diamond billionaires, to come to the aid of their brethren instead of dumping their poor on our doorstep.

    Presumably for the sake of expediency, I note that you omitted your /immeas. sarc. tag…

  5. peteca1 says:

    By the way … what was interesting about this incident – was how quickly the Israeli Gov’t got the situation under control and came up with a positive answer. That was actually quite impressive. Somebody in high places made some good decisions on this issue … the best way to deal with a problem is to take care of it quickly. Kudos to Israel :-)

    Pete

  6. reality says:

    for once someone wrote something sensible about the refugee problem. Well said Anne. & as you so rightly say where are all these modern saints: the UNRWA & HRC &et al? In fact where were all the Israeli bleeding hearts recently when peole were homeless after being thrown out of their homes in Migron , & Givat Ulpana? -lets not forget Katif where families are still paying mortgages for the homes that are now nonexistant palestinian /gazan rocket launching pads? I haven’t sen or heard from all these “humanitarians ” worried about their fellow Jews. Nor Physicians & Rabbis for human rights. Its a terrible situation on the border but its NOT our problem -let Egypt deal with it. In fact one of the lawyers stated that people are considered refugees only when they flee to the nearest country & after that they are illegal immigrants if they infiltrate any other country. We are under NO obligation to take them Its up to the entire world to help out with this problem starting with human rights abuses in Sudan &Eritrea., & then to deal with our wonderful peace partner in Egypt

    • Pete says:

      “Its a terrible situation on the border but its NOT our problem -let Egypt deal with it. ”
      Borders are everyone’s problem. The idea of building a fence has been done in many places, including extensively on the US-Mexico border. It’s attempt to put the problem “on the other guy”. But in reality, it just re-frames the border issue. The underlying concerns don’t go away. Just my $0.02. Pete

  7. Natalie says:

    What you did not include in your commentary is that according to “Welcome! … to Information and Resources fromThe America Team for Displaced Eritreans” The gangs in the Sinai collude with the Eritrean government to send migrants their way if they have relatives in the west that can be counted on for extortion money. These poor Eritreans are then placed in prison camps in the Sinai, the women are gang raped, the men tortured, and they are kept as hostages for extortion of money from western relatives. I don’;t even want to think what happens tot he children. So when the refugees are “used up” i.e. no more money can be extorted or the women are too pregnant for the sexual pleasure of the captors, they are dumped at the border to Israel. Every one Israel lets in, dozens and maybe hundreds more have been murdered. For every one that Israel lets in, these monsters trading on the Eritrean refugees are simply encouraged and rewarded. Another very good reason for Israel to stop accepting them is to stop the horror of what happens in the Sinai. If word gets out that Israel is closed, the flow of human beings into the hands of these monsters will stop. Every one that gets in results in the death of many more. The solution is to not beat israel, it’s to clean up the Sinai.

  8. Andrea says:

    No, it is not solely Israel’s problem – same thing in my country

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19515804?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    but I agree with you. In spite of its dimension Italy is not sorting out same problem at all ( like every other EU country) but this does not seem a public relations issue either for Italy or any other European country.

    • anneinpt says:

      Refugees and illegal immigrants are a problem worldwide, in every democratic country. But as you say, only Israel gets the full microscopic focus on its actions.

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