African refugees in Israel
Beginning in approximately 2005 and continuing until 2012, close to 65,000 African refugees crossed the border between Egypt and Israel seeking refuge from political persecution or war. Most came from Eritrea and Sudan. According to research done by the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, along the way almost 1 in 4 refugees were kidnapped and tortured by human traffickers in the Sinai dessert toextort ransom from their families back home. If ransom was paid, they were released and sent to the Israeli border where they crossed into the country at night. Those who were unable to hand over ransom money were killed.
Today a total of about 40,000 refugees live in Israel, of which 32,000 are Eritreans and 8,000 are Sudanese. The government and most media outlets generally label them as „infiltrators“instead of asylum seekers who are in need of support. The Eritreans fled a country which is known for having one of the most brutal regimes in the world. There are no guarantees for civil rights and all citizens are obliged to continuously perform military service. When Eritreans oppose this service the consequence is often torture or execution. Sudanese refugees flee genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Arab Khartoum regime.
Refugees are not given any legal status in Israel, which consequently prevents them from being able to plant roots in the country. Humanitarian support is not provided by the government and refugees are not officially permitted to work (although working with a valid contract is not prosecuted). The government‘s policy is one of „temporary protection“. Since the home countries of these refugees are not safe to return to, deporting them would violate international law. This means that at the moment, refugees can not get deported yet never truly have the chance to fully integrate into Israeli society.
The former tolerant policy has changed with the new year. In January 2018, the Israeli government announced its intention to deport asylum seekers to African states such as Rwanda or Uganda. To this end, refugees were put under pressure. They were given the option either to accept a payout of 3,500$ and leave the country, or to be sent to a detention facility for an undetermined period of time.
The following photos were taken in summer 2017 in Tel Aviv, Holot, and on the Egyptian border.
After Israel completed the construction of a border fence in 2012, the number of refugees seeking protection drastically dropped. In 2016, only 18 refugees are documented as having crossed the border.
Bereket Haile is also detained in Holot. While being held in the desert, he performs at the Holot Theatre, a theatre group of refugees, to distract him- self from the realities of daily life.
An anonymous woman at the Eritrean Women’s Community Center. Refugees can receive help here from Israeli and international activists with regards to bureaucratical issues and their daily struggle. They also offer language classes and further education.
Mutasim Adi is one of only 11 African refugees who received asylum. Mutasim brought his case to court with help from the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. Before a verdict was reached, the government agreed to a deal and granted Mutasim asylum in order to avoid a precedent.
Abraham Hagos performs with the Holot Theatre. The group was founded by refugees detained in Holot to raise awareness for their struggles. At the end of the day he has to return to the camp.
Fouad Osman is from Sudan and has lived in Israel since 2011. He works in maintanance in a mall in a Tel Aviv suburb.
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