Asylum seekers who left Israel urge people not to come to Rwanda
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has traced down a group of African asylum seekers who accepted $3.500 from the Israeli government to leave for Rwanda, and now describe their situations there as “miserable”.
“I am telling you that there is no work here, no help. We are suffering. How can you bring people here? We have no food, we have no home. If people come, they will suffer like I am. It is better to say there in prison than to come here,” one of them told Haaretz.
Independent researchers Liat Bolzman, Shahar Shoham and Lior Birger had already documented the harsh conditions awaiting the migrants in Rwanda, and spoken to i24NEWS about their report.
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 they receive a one-time payment of $3.500 and leave Israel “voluntarily” to an African country, or, if they decide to stay in Israel, they will endure indefinite incarceration in the Saharonim detention center, where freedom of movement is curbed and rights are limited.
A Haaretz journalist reported from Kigali, Rwanda's capital, that many migrants who accepted grants from Israel and left the country ended up being smuggled illegally to Rwanda.
Those who stay agree that remaining in a prison in Israel would have been a better option for them, as at least one has access to the basics, unlike in Rwanda.
“It is better to stay in Israel, even in prison – you have food, you have a place to stay. You know what our situation is here. It is better to stay there and struggle,” one of the migrants is reported as saying.
Migrants in Rwanda struggle to find jobs both because of the sluggish economy in the country and because of language barriers.
One migrant from South Sudan said he was asked to leave Israel, unlike his wife who is Sudanese and his children.
Quite a few of the former Israeli residents who are now in Rwanda are from Eritrea, a strict military dictatorship where escaping conscription is punished harshly.
Migrants from Eritrea say decades of prison would await them if they were to go back to their country, adding that the $3,500 dollars grant given by Israel when they were expelled did not last very long.
All migrants who have accepted the "expulsion deal" and remain in Rwanda have failed to settle down after years since they left Israel. The only one who claims to own a shop says he wants to close it soon because its bottom line is posting losses.
“I’m not making any profit, I am losing money. I don’t have customers. It is my own business, but very small. I sell soap, sugar. I want to close,” he told Haaretz.
“We don’t have any work in Rwanda, we don’t have food, we don’t have anything. This is just a life of survival. From the government of Rwanda you can’t get any papers or any help,” he added.
After a period of time the government of Rwanda routinely stops issuing residence permits to the asylum seekers, who are therefore forced to seek help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, flee the country, or remain illegally.
Many end up being arrested for overstaying their visas and say the UN is unable to fully provide for their livelihood even if they recognize them as refugees.
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.
The protest against the deportations has seen the involvement of many of Israel's big names, from rabbis to politicians, intellectuals to Holocaust survivors.
“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," one El-Al pilot wrote on Facebook.
In an interview with Haaretz in December, the Chief of the UN Refugee Agency "Filippo Grandi" said the deportations "run counter to Israel's religious teachings".
Referring to the Jews' painful history as refugees, he quoted Italian political thinker Antonio Gramsci as saying that "history teaches, but it has no students."
Most African migrants who arrived to Israel came before 2013, when a barrier between the Negev desert and Egypt was completed.
The influx of asylum seekers since has been negligible, making the job of integrating the migrants easier for Israel. Yet, the government seems reluctant to give up the deportation plan.
In a speech at the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the wave of protests against the deportations, but fell short of promising a review of the plan.
"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.
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May Israel merely send them to Mummy Merkel, she has already welcome 1,000,000 syrian migrans.And She even educate them and find a job to them.