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El-Al pilots to boycott repatriation of African asylum seekers

14 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation have been leveled at staff of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the past three months
DELIL SOULEIMAN (AFP/File)
A number of pilots said they would not be ready to bring refugees back to Africa

A number of pilots from the Israeli airline carrier El-Al said they would not be ready to fly refugees back to African countries, even if they are in Israel illegally.

Iddo Elad, Shaul Betzer, Yoel Piterbarg, all El-Al pilots, wrote on Facebook that they would refuse to fly planes "to a destination where their chances of surviving (in a ‘third country’) are small.”

A number of pilots are also joining the appeal against the deportations, but the migrants could still be deported with different airline carriers.

"I will not be a partner to such barbarism,” wrote Elad on his Facebook page, receiving hundreds of likes. 

Piterbarg appealed to the Jews' history as refugees to criticize the policy of repatriations.

"Let the refugees remain here and be taken care of immediately, as human beings. Just like the Jews were refugees once, wanting to be cared for and not thrown out,” he wrote.

“Refugees who are already living among us cannot be thrown away like stray dogs back to their countries, where suffering, rape of women and girls, and agonizing death awaits them – places like South Sudan and other African countries," he added on Facebook.  

A government plan to deport around 40.000 asylum seekers from Israel has sparked outrage in Israeli civil society, including reactions from religious, intellectual and media figures. 

In a speech at the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the wave of protests against the deportations. 

I hear claims regarding the illegal migrants and our policy. 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.

The Prime Minister went on defending the modalities of the deportations. "Contrary to these claims, I have heard many claims that the arrangements we have set with the third country assures the personal security of those who leave here. They receive permits for housing, work and the chance to integrate into the country," he claimed.

"To the extent that they desire to do so, they may even return to their countries of origin. They receive significant financial assistance from us. Do not forget that Israel invests considerable capital while they are here and for their passage to the third country", Prime Minister Netanyahu concluded.

Lawmakers, rabbis, students, Holocaust survivors and asylum-seekers united on Wednesday at the Israeli parliament under the banner “not in our name”, in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recently announced and highly controversial scheme to deport African migrants from the country.

“We are here today to convey a clear message to the government: Not in our name! We must stop this government from...expelling refugees and asylum seekers to the unknown,” declared Meretz MK Michal Rozin who convened the Knesset conference, alongside Dov Khenin from the Joint List and Kulanu member Eli Alaluf.

Outside the Knesset, meanwhile, ten asylum seekers stood on crate boxes bound by thick silver chains with masking taped-mouths in a dramatic mock ‘slave auction’ shouting: “Get your slaves, slaves for half price.”

“Soon tens of thousands of people will be deported to their deaths and we will stand aside,” Kheinin warned, addressing the Jerusalem auditorium filled by around two hundred protesters cheering and applauding in support. “We have to stop the expulsions!” he urged.

The 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers currently residing in Israel, referred to by Israeli officials as “infiltrators”, face a difficult choice over the next few months: either receive a one-time payment of $3,500 and leave Israel “voluntarily” to an African country, or, stay in Israel and endure indefinite incarceration in the Saharonim detention center, where freedom of movement is curbed and rights are limited.

The deadline for what has been referred to as a “life or death” decision has been set for late March 2018.

Asmait Merhatsion, a 28-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker who delivered her testimony at the Knesset on Wednesday told i24NEWS, “it’s not about money, $3,500 means nothing for us, we paid around $35,000 to get to Israel...we are asking the Israeli government to give us asylum.” A mother of one, Merhatsion said, “I am choosing to stay, in Eritrea they are killing us. I do not want to take my child to die.”

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