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US Congress Black Caucus to protest Israel’s asylum-seeker expulsions: report

African asylum seekers protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 7, 2014. Rwanda continues to deny deal with Israel to take in African migrants who have been ordered to leave the country or face imprisonment.
AFP
Israel's plan to deport or imprison some 38,000 African asylum seekers has sparked major backlash

The African-American Congress members that make up the Congressional Black Caucus are reportedly preparing a letter condemning Israel’s controversial plan to deport or imprison tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers.

The policy, which gives 38,000 asylum-seekers mainly from Eritrea and Sudan the choice between a one-time cash payment and ticket to a third African country or indefinite incarceration, has sparked widespread condemnation both in Israel and internationally.

Speaking to the Haaretz daily, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) warned that Israel faces not only alienation from US Jewish groups over the policy but also African-American members of the House of Representatives.

Hetfield revealed to Haaretz that the Congressional Black Caucus planned to register their protest of the policy, in what could be the first time that this particular caucus has reviewed an internal Israeli policy.

Israel earlier this month began issuing expulsion notices to thousands of asylum-seekers, with the first deportations set to begin in early April. At least seven Eritrean men who have refused deportation have been imprisoned at the Saharonim Prison, where Israel plans to hold those asylum-seekers who refuse to leave.

Lotte Beilin, i24NEWS

On Saturday, an estimated 20,000 Israelis and asylum-seekers protested the deportations in the South Tel Aviv neighborhood which has become a hub for the country’s refugee community.

The mass demonstration came following months of criticism of the policy by activists, academics, Holocaust survivors, and US Jewish organizations who called the plan a “betrayal of Jewish values.”

“In the eyes of the American-Jewish community – particularly the younger generation – this is very upsetting and it’s just going to cause further alienation from Israel,” Hetfield told Haaretz.

In spite of the criticism, Netanyahu has vociferously defended the plan saying that it is not intended to act against “genuine refugees” but rather economic migrants who came to the country illegally.

“We are not acting against refugees. We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees but for work needs. Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees and will remove illegal migrants from its midst," Netanyahu said.

It is illegal to "refoul" asylum-seekers to their countries of origin, so Israel is said to have struck deals to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, although none of the countries involved have confirmed the arrangement, and has been outright denied by some Rwandan and Ugandan officials.

Out of some 15,400 asylum requests filed, 6,600 have been processed and just 11 have received positive answers. Another 1,000 Sudanese from Darfur have received special status preventing their deportation.

Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.

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