Israel is disregarding its history in delivering an ultimatum to African migrants

30 Jan 2018


Earlier this month, the Israeli government delivered a three-month ultimatum, ordering 38,000 African refugees and migrants to leave the country or face imprisonment.  


The notice came to light after Israel's Population and Immigration Authority released a statement confirming the closure of Holot – the biggest detention centre for asylum seekers in Israel. The statement called on migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to voluntarily leave Israel. The government has promised deportees a grant of $3,500 to cover travel and administration costs. 


Those who remain in Israel after the ultimatum expires will face imprisonment and will be forbidden from sending their wages back home. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the plan, responding: "Intruders have a simple choice, either they cooperate with us and leave the country voluntarily, respectfully, humanely and legally, or we must use other means at our disposal."


Many of these migrants had initially claimed asylum under the United Nations convention on the status of refugees, having fled their home countries because of war and persecution. Consequently, refugees cannot legally be deported from Israel: the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has determined that Eritrea is not safe for the migrants. 


Nevertheless, the Israeli government officials have labelled migrants as "Infiltrators" who constitute a threat to Israel’s cultural identity.


In contrast to the governmental officials, the Israeli public are generally supportive of the refugees in their country, recalling that Israel was established in the aftermath of the Holocaust to house European Jews. Hence, they have a moral obligation to assist these migrants who come to Israel for safety. 


Doctors, academics and Rabbis have all called on the government to change the plan and find other solutions that do not involve the deportation of refugees. Pilots from Israel's Airline Pilots Association have also vowed to go on strike if the government does not rethink its policy. Meanwhile Susan Silverman, a prominent Rabbi and activist, has urged other rabbis and citizens to hide refugees in the same way that Anne Frank and her family were.


The Israeli government's ultimatum endangers migrants and refugees, whose home countries are war-stricken and dangerous. Israel has a duty to uphold the UN legislation and it is essential that they do not pressurise vulnerable individuals. Countries like Britain, France and the US should intervene and advise Israel against this proposal.


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