Daily Israel Report

Official: Illegal African Refugees Aren't Going Anywhere

International law makes it unlikely that Israel will be able to remove the 60,000 illegal Africans that have migrated here, an expert says
By David Lev
First Publish: 5/31/2012, 12:55 PM

Illegal Africans in Tel Aviv
Illegal Africans in Tel Aviv
Israel News photo: Flash 90

Despite the tough talk from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai on deporting illegal African migrants, who have set up what some called “a state within a state” in south Tel Aviv, immigration experts said Thursday that Israel was unlikely to find a country willing to accept the illegals.

Netanyahu said this week that he would make sure that the at least 60,000 illegal aliens from Africa who had immigrated to Israel would be sent back to where they came from, while Yishai has long advocated setting up a detention center for illegal aliens and shipping them from there back to their home countries. But experts said that the issue was not that simple.

Speaking in an interview, a high-ranking government official said that the process of deporting the illegals would be complicated. “When an illegal is caught by the IDF or police, they are questioned as to their place of origin. If they say they are from Eritrea or Sudan, they are given a special visa, allowing them to remain, but not to work.”

The reason this is done, the official said, is because Israel is obligated, by international treaties, to accept political refugees and provide them with living and work opportunities. “If they declare they are political refugees we have to accept that at face value, and provide them with rights until their eligibility is disproven,” the official said.

The question of whether the illegals are political or economic refugees, who came to Israel seeking work – and whom the country is free to deport – is a thorny one, and the official said that, despite some legal opinions that indicate that the illegals are economic refugees and can be deported, a case could be made for their political refugee status.

The best hope, said the official, was to find another country willing to take the refugees off Israel's hands, but that finding such a country was unlikely. “We have been in touch with several governments, but nothing concrete has emerged yet. No country, whether in Israel or Europe, is happy accepting illegal aliens, but the bitter truth is, as we see in Europe and the U.S., most of the third world refugees who reach the first world countries end up remaining there. Unfortunately, no Israeli politician is prepared to tell voters the truth,” the official said.

According to international law, governments cannot be forced to accept refugees from the countries they immigrated to – even if they are citizens of that country.

Speaking about the issue Wednesday, Netanyahu said that “it's not just a matter of putting the illegals on a ship and sending them away. But I believe we can remove them, and we will. My policy has been clear – try to prevent them from getting into Israel, with the fence soon to be completed on our southern border, and to remove those who are here already.”

Netanyahu added that he believed there would be no problem deporting refugees from South Sudan, since that country was now independent, and refugees who had fled the terror and massacre of the southern black population by northern Arab Sudanese could now return home without fear.