Israel's Jewish Agency speaks out against expulsion of asylum seekers
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
The Jerusalem based Jewish Agency spoke out against the expulsion of African asylum seekers from Israel in statement released Tuesday.
“These youngsters have grown up in an Israeli educational environment, speak fluent Hebrew, are imbued with Israeli culture, and are loyal to the State of Israel,” the statment said, referring to 500 asylum seekers who arrived to Israel as minors. “Therefore, it is right that they be granted legal status,” it added.
An estimated 20,000 Israelis demonstrated in central Tel Aviv Saturday evening, including some of the 40,000 African asylum seekers subject to a government expulsion plan that gives them until April to return to their homelands or to a third country, or else face indefinite detention.
Protesters brandished signs of "many Israelis along with asylum seekers" and chanted other slogans such as "one does not expel a human being." A wall on a main Tel Aviv Boulevard was colorfully decorated with the sole phrase "we were all once refugees."
As many asylum seekers could face danger if returned to their home countries, Israel has offered to send the them with $3,500 to an unnamed third country, which migrants and aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.
The policy has been met with criticism from the United Nations refugee agency as well as strong public opposition in Israel over recent months in various incidents and demonstrations, as well as airline pilots saying they will not fly forced deportees.
Meanwhile a smaller counter-protest was taking place nearby and earlier Saturday, Israeli police detained two men, one armed, after they allegedly made online threats to disrupt the rally in solidarity with African migrants facing expulsion.
Police reported that the men were "detained for questioning" after a Facebook post apparently calling for a violent counter-protest as opponents of a government crackdown on the migrants gathered in Tel Aviv.
"Friends it's happening... the battle to throw out the infiltrators," said the post, reproduced in a police statement. "It's time to riot and defend our home."
The term "infiltrators" is used by Israeli authorities and supporters of mass deportation to refer to the migrants, who began entering Israel illegally through what was then a porous border with Egypt in 2007.
A 27-year-old Eritrean aslyum-seeker, Mebrahatom, who came to Israel in August 2011, told i24NEWS that "the people protesting against us in South Tel Aviv are racist, they don't like black people."
But a 24-year-old Sudanese asylum-seeker named Salamon who also arrived to Israel in 2011 said that "I don't believe people are racist, I think it is a lack of information and lack of education...if I could have the opportunity to talk with someone I could change their mind, its just pure ignorance."
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