Minister of the Interior, Gideon Saar has created a storm in Israel through by failing to process the claims of Africans who have been arriving in Israel since 2007. In his piece appearing in Israel haYom on January 7th, 2014, responding to days of protests, Minister Saar makes several factual errors, fails to accurately portray the situation, and exemplifies poor ethical judgment.
First, the term “infiltrator” that Minister Saar uses is dishonest. It is embarrassing that a representative of the Israeli government uses the term “infiltrator” to refer to African refugees. By using this term, Minister Saar ignores the possibility that these people are asylum seekers. That however, is their claim, a claim which entitles them to legal rights, and obligates Israel, according to the 1951 Convention of Refugees, which it championed, to moral and legal obligations toward them.
Perhaps Saar is unaware that around the world, Eritreans are granted 84.5%their asylum requests? Perhaps he is unaware that whereas Sudanese are recognized at a rate of 74.5% around the world, our Prime Minister boasts of having deported 2,600 persons (mostly Sudanese) back into the very dangerous environment that they fled for their lives? Some of those persons have never been heard from again. Others we know have died due to improper preparation for re-entry.
Minister Saar, you falsely state that every claim is evaluated. Only about 250 out of thousands of claims have been reviewed. Much more sinister is the way that the Israeli authorities have rejected every single one they have reviewed, putting the legitimacy of the Israeli process in doubt.
What can account for the difference in recognition rates? It seems unlikely that it’s the reason for Eritreans fleeing their tyrannical and murderous government. That would be more or less uniform in the countries of their dispersion. Is it something to do with the message Israel wants to send to Africans? Minister Saar’s argument that as the only Western country having a land border with the continent of Africa, Israel has to take a harsh stance toward asylum seekers, seems to reveal quite a lot about his thinking. Geography does not, however, determine what is right and what is wrong. As the Jewish experience in the 1930s and 40s indicates, it is wrong to reject them. This is something that every Jew knows. If you hear the voice of conscience, do not harden your hearts.
These people are not taking to the street to demand the right to work. They are demanding their right to not be detained indefinitely. They are claiming their right to have their asylum claims acknowledged. They are claiming their legitimate rights as refugees based on the fact of having fled for their lives. If you disagree, then the burden of proof lies upon your ministry to conduct a fair refugee status determination process. Anything less is dishonest and inhumane.
You depict the detention center as a place where Israel generously accommodates the refugees at its own cost. But this is not a place where people go of their own free will. They are arrested and taken there. They are being held in a prison as if they are criminals. Moreover, it was your initiative to arrest more Africans and bring them to the prison that prompted this demonstration. This is a storm of your own making.
Perhaps the Minister fails to understand that if Israel behaved like other developed countries and invited each African to an interview to review their story and determine the status of their claim to be an asylum seeker (i.e. had a “refugee status determination” process), and set a quota for how many asylees it is able to receive each year, then it could begin cooperating with other countries for the relocation of the surplus number of refugees. Perhaps he has not noticed that this is how every other civilized country behaves toward asylum seekers.
Something about Minister Saar’s geographically informed ethics seems to have kept him from spotting the most obvious, ethical, and painless solution to the situation of the African refugees in Israel: holding a refugee status determination process. Instead his neglect of the situation and disregard for the Africans has created a storm. Mr Saar, its time you started listening to the stories of the Africans. Its time you started listenning to the voice of the stranger in our midst.