Israel plans to deport thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees
In Israel, when refugees receive deportation notices they are given one month to decide whether to be deported to a third country or to be imprisoned indefinitely. Earlier this month, Israel announced the mass-deportation of 20,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda and Uganda by 2020. Since the announcement, there have been diplomatic objections; as well as major protests against the deportation orders internationally and within Israel.
As Americans, whose country gives more financial, military, and diplomatic support to Israel than any other country in the world, it is time to pressure our government to end its complicity with Israel’s actions. As long as we continue to provide aid to the Israeli-state then we will find ourselves on the wrong side of history just as we were when we supported apartheid South Africa.
The move is in complete contradiction with Israel’s public-image as a country for those who sought refuge from anti-semitism after the Holocaust; as well as the fact that Israel is a signatory member of the UN Convention on Refugees that recognizes “the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.” However, the deportations themselves are a further reminder that Israel is an ethnocracy set on expelling African refugees and indigenous Palestinians.
For the Eritreans who are fleeing to Israel, they’re escaping a repressive government that keeps a firm grip on the entirety of the country. It forces Eritreans to join the military, has a long history of jailing dissidents, and was rated by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the most censored country in the world.
Eritreans in Israel are attempting to avoid deportation at all costs because the price they would pay is death. The situation is no different for Sudanese who have fled civil war and the repression in Darfur. For Israelis to reject refugees when they were once refugees themselves makes the irony all the more bitter. It is a continuous tragedy that all of history bears witness to the present.
When refugees are deported to Rwanda and Uganda, they find that there are no opportunities for survival, are essentially stuck in the country and are susceptible to exploitative labor practices.
When asked to comment on the situation, an officer in Students of East Africa (SEA), Alya Muses, commented, “It’s not like the countries they’re going to are as welcoming; like you’re just gonna throw them in Rwanda, what are they gonna do there?”
Another officer in SEA, Tiffany Okoli, commented, “They don’t know the language, they don’t know the culture and you don’t know how the Rwandans are going to treat them.” Her observation sums up an important point. As many refugees who leave for other countries know, it is not as simple as finding another country to live in. Refugees face social-alienation as soon as they arrive in a country where their native language is not spoken and this drives away any potential opportunities for jobs and access to social services.
Israel has set up detention camps for those who refuse to voluntarily leave the country and force those imprisoned to stay indefinitely. They are able to avoid violating international law by not officially imprisoning them but by forcing them to check-in at the detention camps three times a day.
Since the camps are located in the desert 60 miles away from the closest town, the detained refugees cannot go far and are dependent on being there to survive. Their living conditions are terrible and everyday is a struggle to stay alive. Its for these reasons that hundreds of prisoners have gone on a hunger-strike.
When asked whether or not these actions taken by Israel are racist, Alya Muses responded, “I would definitely say its racist, especially since Israel has undocumented Europeans living in Israel already but you don’t see the same things happening to them.”
As Ethiopian jews residing in Israel know, Israel’s horrific treatment of East Africans is not new. In 2013, the Israeli health ministry admitted to forcibly sterilizing Ethiopian jews which led to a 50% decrease in Ethiopian birth rates in Israel as cited in the Empire Files documentary; this amounts to a eugenics program.
On April 1st, Israel will begin the process of deporting and imprisoning all of those left in the detention camps. Time is running out for those who face the prospects of being deported to countries they’ve never visited and for those of us who can call out our government for supporting these measures.
Some Israelis have made it a point to fight back against these measures, including setting up a shelter for refugees.
However, their measures will only amount to a drop in the ocean if they don’t begin to deal with their history of ethnic-cleansing and see that the liberation of Palestinians from apartheid is part-and-parcel of the same fight for refugee rights.
Opinion Staff columnist Brant Roberts is a history senior and can be reached at [email protected].