Sunday, March 18, 2018

Israel imprisons first asylum seekers: a view from Palestine

By Elizabeth Jenkins - February 27, 2018
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [refugees] [Right of Return]

On Jan. 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced 38, 000 asylum seekers faced a choice between voluntary deportation with a one-way ticket and $3500, or imprisonment. The jailing of those who reject the offer has begun.

Seven Eritrean asylum seekers refused to be deported to Rwanda, and were consequently detained on Feb. 21. Rwanda is one of the two countries Netanyahu is thought to have made a deal with to send asylum seekers to, the other being Uganda.
Palestine Monitor asked ASSAF (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel) what happened when asylum seekers arrived in these third countries.
Adi Drori-Avraham explained; “they don’t get any documents or passports. They are either coerced or convinced by circumstances to keep moving. Within a few days, people find themselves moving towards (…) a fourth country with no documents, with no status and are extremely vulnerable.”
Many of the asylum seekers came through the Sinai from 2007, fleeing war and persecution. The flow stopped in 2012 after Israel built a barrier along the border.
The term 'infiltrator’ has been used to describe the asylum seekers, a term that originally designated Palestinians in a law from 1954 that aimed at impeding refugees from returning to their land.
Drori-Avraham noted; “it is very indicative that the Israeli government has chosen this law and this term 'infiltrator’ to use on a completely new population of African asylum seekers.”
Daoud Yusef, from Adameer – an organisation which supports Palestinian prisoners – also drew the parallels: “the Palestinian population attempting to return in vast numbers was imagined as an existential threat. (…) An infiltrator is someone who enters into a system that assumedly is running, and sort of subverts the process, subverts the character, subverts the nature.”
In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, Harawi wrote that contrary to the view mainstream media has been propagating, “Israel has not "betrayed" its history and "become" an intolerant place. It has always been this way. And this line of thinking (…) ignores how the very foundation of the Israeli state reinforces racial hierarchies.”
Yusef agrees, stating that: “for us, from Palestinian civil society and looking at this phenomenon, we see it in keeping with the inherent racist nature of the Israeli state.”
Arbitrary detention, the measure asylum seekers are being threatened with, has been an ongoing strategy used against Palestinians.
Although Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza appear in military courts and asylum seekers are subject to Israeli domestic law, Yusef notes that, “they occupy a similar legal space.”
“[Palestinians and asylum seekers do not fit] that paradigm of the state, so thus they occupy this role as subjects rather than citizens. They are sort of people that can be gotten rid of, or even must be gotten rid of to maintain the unity of the people that are citizens.”
The deadline for asylum seekers to choose between voluntary deportation or detainment is April 1.
Photo: African Asylum seekers imprisoned in Holot "open" prison exiting the facility, December 2013. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

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