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Stop the Persecution of African Refugees in Israel

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Over the past few months, we have seen alarming increases in the persecution and racist treatment of African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. We call on the US government to urge Israel to abide by internationally mandated treatment of African refugees. Read here for the latest news and analysis on Africans in Israel: Mayibuye Africa Blog


We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are deeply disturbed by recent reports of the persecution of African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.

Israel is one of the strongest allies of the United States and receives more economic aid and military funding than any other country in the world. 

We strongly urge President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the US State Department to send a clear message to the State of Israel condemning recent policies and actions that persecute African immigrants and refugees on the basis of their race, and that fail to protect them as mandated by international law.

In the past year and half, we have witnessed and received reports of violence against African migrants and asylum seekers.  Racist language inciting violence is used not only by right-wing organizations and politicians, but also by government officials.   There have been alarming increases in daily harassment, beating, torching of houses as well as the denial of housing, employment and health to thousands of innocent African migrants who are simply trying to live and survive.  These abuses have been noted by the news media, independent human rights groups, and by the U.S. Department of State in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011.

The country of Israel was built by immigrants and refugees, and its citizens know better than most about racial and religious persecution.  These recent acts of violence against African migrants should be condemned by the international community. The government of Netanyahu and organs of the state have not only failed to protect African migrants and asylum seekers as they are mandated; they have enabled an atmosphere of racism, hate, and persecution.

There are approximately 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel at this time.  This is a small number in comparison to the over 1.6 million Israeli Jews born in other countries. These asylum seekers pose no threat to the economic or political security to the country. They are not “work infiltrators” as the government calls them but refugees whose claims for asylum have yet to be heard. Recent Israeli policy towards African refugees has given us deep concern and prompted us to write this urgent letter. 

In particular, we draw attention to the following:
    Measures to detain African refugees for up to three years without due process. This “anti-infiltration law” as it is known is not only immoral and violatesinternational convention, but goes against the stated nature of a “democratic state”;

    Mass deportations of African refugees that result in the return of countless individuals to countries they fled due to fear for their lives; we have ascertained in many cases where they face long term imprisonment or even death.

    The current enlargement of Saharonim Detention facility in Negev and the building of a ‘tent city’ as a temporary detention camp for refugees and their families in South Israel.  Such practices are inhumane as temperatures in the area are known to exceed 120˚F and will undoubtedly be unbearable especially for young children. (International research has found that immigration detention is harmful to the health and wellbeing of those detained, both in the short and long term.  Children are particularly at risk; the potential for negative psychological, emotional and physical impact on children has been well documented.  Furthermore, although detention is extremely expensive for states, there is no evidence that detention actually deters irregular migrants. )

    Detainees will also be deliberately segregated from others on the basis of race and will be deprived of basic human rights and access to adequate housing, health care and education.

Israel does provide full citizenship of Ethiopian and other Jews of African descent.  It has affirmed itself as a democratic state that does not discriminate on the basis of race.  Yet, Interior Minister Eli Yishai recently stated that Israel “belongs to the White Man” and is taking measures to deport and detain thousands of refugees from Sub Saharan Africa because they supposedly ‘threaten the Jewish identity of the Israeli state’. 

We know that security concerns have driven Israeli policy in past decades where extreme measures have been used as justification for violations of the human rights of Palestinians and other citizens.  We do not deny that Israel has the right to exist and to protect its borders and citizens. But we strongly object that these concerns are used to segregate, oppress, and even kill others.

We therefore call on the government of the United States to send a clear message to Israel to institute immediate measures to protect the lives of thousands of recent refugees especially from Eritrea and Sudan but also from other Sub-Saharan African countries.  As asylum seekers with solid presumptive claims to refugee status, they have civil and human rights which they are entitled to as mandated by international conventions to which Israel is a signatory.

Signatory organizations
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights (NNIRR)
Priority Africa Network (PAN)
The Black Immigration Network (BIN)
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
AfricaFocus Bulletin
International Detention Coalition (IDC)
International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER)
African Refugee Development Center


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