80 refugees are rounded up as Israel’s Interior Minister declares, ‘this country belongs to the white man’

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Asylum seekers detained in Israel’s Saharonim prison. (Photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz)

In a wave of door-to-door police searches over the weekend, the Israeli government cemented anti-migrant sentiment into a mass deportation program by rounding up  80 refugees. The arrests come days after a Jerusalem court legalized transferring all of Israel’s 1,500 South-Sudanese migrants back to their home country.

The roundup is part of a larger policy to deport all of Israel’s asylum seekers, drafted by Interior Minister Eli Yishai who said earlier this month that Israel is for “the white man.” Speaking to Maariv on June 3, 2012 the minister said: “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe this country belongs to us, to the white man,” continuing that he is prepared to use “all the tools to expel the foreigners, until not one infiltrator remains.” The program was also endorsed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“They are going from house to house and rounding up people. They tell us: ‘Get your things and go,” said community organizer Michael Bazia to YNet News. Continuing, “the [people] are willing to go home, but not in this manner. We are tired of this. We’ve only had independence for 10 months. You can’t build a state in 10 months.”

deportation form
deportation form (Photo: Ilana Curiel/YNet News)

Authorities are also pressuring immigrants to “voluntarily” leave Israel by offering subsidized departure flights and immunity from jail time. Under the recently revised illegal entry laws, asylum seekers can face up to three years in prison, and if Israelis are caught assisting refugees they can be sentenced for 5 years and fined over $1 million. “Whoever wants to leave voluntarily can receive a grant and some time to sort their affairs in Israel; this is much more respectful; each person should decide according to their own considerations,” said an immigration agent to YNet.

With the looming threat of prison, six of the arrested families signed departure statements and YNet also reported dozens of African migrants in hiding have accepted the strong-arm deal. Arrested refugee families who did not accept the offer were split apart, with men incarcerated in a separate facility from women and children.

Anti-migrant politicians are hopeful to expand Thursday’s deportation greenlight by legalizing the transfer for all of Israel’s 60,000 refugees, not just the South-Sudanese. Currently only Eritrean and North Sudanese immigrants receive temporary stays, but Yishai, the designer of the mass deportation policy, has assembled a task force to erode those protections. In an interview with YNet on Sunday, the minister spoke about his “Yishai plan” and aspirations to eject Eritreans, despite their asylum status:

‘As for the Eritrean citizens, I haven’t given up yet,’  [Yishai] said Sunday in an interview with Ynet. ‘I met with the Eritrean ambassador to Israel who told me of the situation there, and the situation there is good. Security wise, it is no more dangerous than Sderot.’

Yishai went on to scapegoat the United Nations:

‘They have problems in the African countries? Let the UN handle those problems. Let it handle it [the problems] better than it handled the problems in Syria. It is unacceptable that the UN is not solving these problems and we have to pay for it. I’m not the Eritrean welfare minister and not the Sudanese labor minister.’

Ahead of the migrants’ arrests, the Israeli government also has sped up construction on a new detention facility set to warehouse arrested refugees. The prison, Ir Amim, or city of nations, is planned to hold over 10,000 asylum seekers.  Haaretz reported today a construction worker on site said, “We’re building the Sudanese a political asylum.” Haaretzs Gili Cohen then continued, “the inmates will stay in shipping containers turned into mobile homes.”


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