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‘In Israel you can’t dream’: Asylum-seekers crushed by Netanyahu's backflip

Asylum seekers protest against deportation in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. Israel considers the vast majority of the nearly 40,000 migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. The Africans, nearly all from dic
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
On Monday, Netanyahu backtracked on the milestone deal forged with the UN to stop the deportation of migrants

African asylum-seekers in Israel were granted a momentary morsel of hope was on Monday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that an “unprecedented” deal had been struck with the United Nations' refugee agency to resettle over 16,000 migrants in Western countries while offering temporary status to thousands more.

But just hours later, Netanyahu reneged on the deal under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners, leaving many wondering -- what next?

For months, the uncertain destiny of 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants has ebbed and flowed according to the whims of the government. From the closure Holot detention facility, to shortened and then re-extended deportation deadlines, to back-and-forth high court rulings on criteria for refugee status. Suspended policies and continually broken promises have left asylum-seekers living in a state of limbo.

“They are living their everyday life with a cloud over their head and a looming deadline, this life of uncertainty is their everyday,” Leah Hecht, program manager for Education and Advocacy at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) said in an interview.

In January, the prime minister unveiled a "catch-22" choice for asylum seekers: Take a one-time payment of $3,500 and a plane ticket out of Israel to a “third party country” (widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda) or face indefinite incarceration. A March 26 deadline was set. The plan drew widespread international condemnation, including from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who deemed it incoherent and unsafe.

Hoping to register their asylum claims before the deadline, thousands have queued outside the border authority for countless hours, to register in person (as the government requires) according to a quota for the number of registries per day. A Tel Aviv tribunal castigated the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) for making the process so intentionally hard.

“I stopped dreaming three years ago, in Israel you can’t dream,” Salamon, 24-year-old Sudanese asylum-seeker who arrived to Israel in 2011 told i24NEWS when asked about his plans for the future.

Many, including Salamon, went as far as describing the government as “cheating” and “playing mind games” with the lives of the migrants who are seeking safety, security and a life away from persecution.

The biggest blow to asylum-seekers' morale, however, was dealt this week with Netanyahu's stunning flip-flop on the international deal.

AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

- Dashed dreams -

On Monday the prime minister, who has vociferously advocated for expelling all “infiltrators” from the country, made a landmark declaration. Of the 38,000 African migrants in the country, 16,250 would be resettled in various “developed” countries (namely Germany, Italy and Canada) under the auspices of the UNHCR in exchange for thousands of others being granted temporary status in Israel.

“I couldn't believe it, I thought this could be the first step in saving our lives,” Taj Harom, a Darfuri asylum-seeker told i24NEWS of his initial reaction to the announcement. "Although I felt relieved, I was hesitant to show excitement because I have had a lot of disappointment from the government,” he added.

For those few hours during which the deal seemed to be going ahead, celebrations were underway. The hearts of asylum-seekers and the thousands of activists who spent months protesting, rallying, and lobbying for diplomatic action and advocacy were lifted, and a victory of sorts -- albeit a small one -- was declared.

Only hours later, caving into political pressure heaped on him by right-wing coalition members, the prime minister announced that after a careful evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages “I decided to cancel the agreement.” He added, “we will continue to act with determination to exhaust all possibilities available to us to remove the infiltrators.”

“It seems like he was in a mood of accepting, and now he is in different mood -- almost as if he was lying in his bed and making the decision, it seems irrational to me,” Taj said of the prime minister's renege. “It’s against Jewish values, it’s against religion and it appears to be against the values of the people that vote for Netanyahu.”

“He is cheating us, we don’t expect this behavior from prime minister of the State of Israel,” Segai, an Eritrean asylum-seeker said in an interview with i24NEWS. “The government is ready to attack us but the people are fighting alongside us.”

Described as a “game-changing” development at the time, the government last month agreed to reassess the claims of Eritreans fleeing from forced army conscription -- viewing this as based on “well-founded fears for persecution.”

Army conscription in Eritrea, a one-party dictatorship often called "the North Korea of Africa", is arbitrary and sometimes for life.

Asylum-seekers hopes were dashed again when Haaretz reported on Monday that only 12 of 280 Eritrean army dodgers held in Saharonim detention facility had been released., despite the court's ruling.

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

- The Saga of south Tel Aviv -

Meanwhile, debate surrounding south Tel Aviv, a neighborhood that has become the epicenter of the migrant community due to the mass influx of asylum-seekers to the area in 2012, was again brought to the forefront of the political debate.

Netanyahu made it clear where his priorities lay by reaffirming his commitment to establishing a south Tel Aviv rehabilitation center, the only pledge he appears to have kept as part of the initial UNHCR agreement. “I hear you, and especially the residents of south Tel Aviv,” he declared.

“We don’t feel secure to walk in our streets, we feel locked in our homes especially after midnight,” said Miri Lavi, an activist and a resident of area stated.

Many residents supported the original deportation policy to expel all of the migrants in the area, and expressed opposition to the UN deal calling it a “shame for the state of Israel”. They argue that the neighborhood’s security and socioeconomic status has deteriorated since Eritrean and Sudanese migrants settled there.

However, others argue that the locality has long been neglected and claim chronic lack of government investment.

“If he [Netanyahu] wanted to rehabilitate southern Tel Aviv, he could have done it long ago, and now he is also preventing the dispersal of asylum seekers who live there throughout the country and in Western countries,” Dov Khenin, a lawmaker from the Joint List party and a vocal advocate for protecting migrants, told i24NEWS.

As the issue increasingly becomes poised in “us” versus “them” terms with political point-scoring taking center stage, Taj, an asylum-seeker, says “our issue is not political.”

“It doesn’t matter if Netanyahu is in power, we are here to be protected by whoever can. Sadly, they are making our issue political," he said. "To come to the conclusion that everyone is a migrant worker when we are fleeing for our lives is really a sad thing."

Jesseca Manville is a journalist and news editor on the English web desk

Comments

(2)

Migrants--- BALONEY. This is just another attempt to weaken the State of Israel.

Israel. The land of the bad and shameful people.

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