|CBC IN ISRAEL
Israeli residents of South Tel Aviv say migrants have made their neighbourhood unsafe
By Derek Stoffel, CBC News
Posted: Feb 18, 2018 4:00 AM ET
Last Updated: Feb 18, 2018 11:43 PM ET
Mesgna walked out of an Israeli immigration office near Tel Aviv
clutching a white piece of paper that he worries is his death warrant.
feel that [Israel is] killing me — to deport me to Uganda or
Rwanda is no less than killing me," said the 30-year-old Eritrean, who
has lived in Israel since 2011.
is one of hundreds of men from Eritrea and Sudan who have been handed
notices giving them a stark choice. They can leave
Israel voluntarily, along with a cheque for $4,400 and a plane
ticket to an undisclosed country in Africa, or be locked up.
The deportations of 37,000 African migrants, who the government views as "illegal infiltrators," are expected to begin in March.
state's plans have drawn harsh criticism from Holocaust survivors and
sparked demonstrations, with immigration and human rights advocates
saying the expulsions are not the Jewish way.
Muluebrhan Mesgna was born in Tserona, a city in southern Eritrea.
to Human Rights Watch, the unelected president of Eritrea, Isaias
Afwerki, leads "one of the world's most oppressive governments."
finishing his university degree in veterinary sciences, the
then-22-year-old Mesgna was worried the country's mandatory military
service, which is viewed as indefinite conscription, meant his "future
was narrowing out."
Leaving his mother and father behind, Mesgna went in 2010 to Sudan.
years later, he made his way by car and on foot across Egypt and the
dangerous Sinai Desert, paying about $4,000 to a shadowy group of men
who facilitated the journey.
said five people in his group of about 70 perished during the two-month
journey, dying of thirst, hunger or cruel treatment at the hands of
local Bedouin tribes.
he arrived in Israel, Mesgna was taken to a temporary immigration
facility. A month later he went to Tel Aviv, where he found a place to
live and a job.
He continues to work six or seven days a week in the kitchen of a restaurant in the city's well-known Sarona Market.
were saved," Mesgna said from the tiny one-room apartment in the Tel
Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva that he shares with his Eritrean wife,
Meaza. "For six years, I can say that I've been protected here in
But he worries that protection is quickly running out.
60,000 African migrants — most of them Eritrean and Sudanese — have
crossed into Israel from Egypt's Sinai Desert since 2005.
While a United Nations examination of Eritrea
in 2016 found "widespread and systematic" crimes against humanity, and
thousands of Sudanese from the Darfur region have fled to Israel, only
11 Eritreans and Sudanese have received asylum, Israel's Ministry of
Interior told CBC News in an email.
are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees, but
for work needs," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees, and will
remove illegal migrants from its midst."
officials have not declared where the migrants will be deported to,
although the government acknowledges it's too dangerous to return
Sudanese and Eritreans home.
Aid groups have named Uganda and Rwanda, but the Ugandan government denied it is a destination.
A neighbourhood transformed
find some of the fiercest opposition to the presence of the Africans in
Israel when you walk through the streets of South Tel Aviv, where
Israeli residents say the neighbourhood has been transformed into a
The area is the home to the largest concentration of Africans living in Israel.
didn't grow up thinking that I would be afraid to go out of my house,
and feel I will be raped or murdered," said May Golan, the CEO of
Hebrew City, an organization campaigning against illegal immigration.
of South Tel Aviv say their neighbourhood has seen a spike in crime,
but the latest statistics from Israeli police show the number of
burglaries in the area dropped 32 per cent in 2017, compared
to 2015. In the same period, assaults fell 39 per cent, while drug
offences increased by nearly a quarter.
Meanwhile, a police survey quoted by the Israeli news site Mida found that 62 per cent of Israelis living in South Tel Aviv were too afraid to leave their homes at night.
But a community organization known as South Tel Against the Deportations maintains those fears are overblown.
a small neighbourhood," group coordinator Inbal Ezoz told CBC
News. "There are too many people living there, and those who came from
other countries don't have much, so there are tensions. But it's not as
dangerous as some residents say."
is steadfast in her opposition to the "illegal infiltrators,"
accusing them of "taking your identity … taking the core of your
being as a rightful citizen in your country and just tearing it from
you," by trying to "change the Jewish demographic in Israel."
has met with top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, to ensure the deportations go ahead. While some pro-African
advocates say the effort clearly has racial overtones, Golan calls that
don't care what colour they are. They can be pink. They can be yellow.
They can be white. They can be black," she told CBC News.
care about the fact that people who don't belong to this country came
here illegally and are changing every possible criteria of our lives in
a violent, very brutal way."
Calls to halt the deportations
around the world — including Canada, the United States and European
nations — are struggling to deal with global migration. Israel is the
latest state grappling with how to protect its security and borders,
while also showing compassion to those less well off.
pending deportation of thousands of people has struck a chord in
Israel, as the Jewish state was created as a safe haven for Jews
Dozens of Holocaust survivors sent a letter to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, urging him to reconsider.
State of Israel, under your rule, has set itself a goal of reminding
the world of the lessons of the Holocaust," the survivors wrote.
"Therefore we ask you: Stop the process! Only you have the ability to
make a historic decision and show the world that the Jewish state will
not allow the suffering and torture of people under its protection."
and African migrants have voiced similar messages at a number of
rallies held in support of the asylum seekers. A demonstration outside
of the Rwandan Embassy in the city of Herzliya earlier this month
attracted thousands of protestors.
think this is against our tradition and against our history as Jews,
who for centuries tried to escape from different places," said renowned
Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, who added that several members of his
family perished at the hands of the Nazis.
"Now we are doing this, against our culture."
Canada offers refugee protection
Israel completed a steel fence along its southern border with Egypt in 2013, which has largely stopped the influx of Africans.
those who made it to Israel, a number have already moved on to other
countries. About 20,000 have left in recent years, with many finding
Canada a more hospitable host.
Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News that 1,880 Eritreans
living in Israel were given refugee protection in Canada beginning
in 2016, mostly under private sponsorship programs.
Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which represents Jewish groups in
Canada, is urging Ottawa to sponsor African refugees in Israel, so
there is "minimal dislocation and hardship for asylum seekers."
Muluebrhan Mesgna said he would jump at the chance to relocate from Israel to a safe third country, including Canada.
added that if he can't go to a country considered a safe haven, he will
not take up the Israeli offer for cash and a plane ticket to an African
destination, because he worries that eventually he'd be forced back
home to Eritrea.
prefer to stay here and go to prison," he said moments after receiving
his deportation notice. "I have to be here, where I will be protected."