Israel can’t afford to jail thousands African refugees. But that’s the threat if they don’t leave the country.

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By Mitzpeh staff
@Mitzpeh

Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv in 2014. (Photo: Rudychaimg/wikimedia commons)

Over the past few years, Israel has been the refuge of tens of thousands of African migrants. After fleeing their homes due to war, military drafts and poverty, amongst other reasons, these refugees are now faced with deportation by the Israeli government.

Given the options of $3,500 and a free one-way flight out of Israel, or jail, these Africans have little choice in their future.

Many Jewish citizens protested the new policy, saying that it goes against everything Israel is founded upon since Israel was created as a place of refuge from persecution, especially for those seeking shelter during the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands by his plan, saying that it is “completely legal and completely essential,” according to The New York Times. Netanyahu also assures both Israeli citizens and African refugees that migrants will be taken care of in the African countries, Rwanda and Uganda, to which they are being deported.

However, in light of recent bribery allegations against Netanyahu, it is difficult to trust his intentions, as asylum seekers who have already been deported to Rwanda say it is like a prison. Although the United Nations is doing its best to support the deportees, there is only so much the organization can do for so many displaced people.

Many Israeli leaders have also argued that the presence of Africans, who are officially being termed “infiltrators” according to NPR, is a threat against the country’s Jewish character.

This deportation policy is not only hurting Israel’s image abroad but within its own borders. Jewish academics and Holocaust survivors are urging the Israeli government to learn from the past and keep the country open to African refugees. Israeli leaders are hypocritical to say they are trying to protect Jewish character while simultaneously going against Jewish values by sending away those in need.

While Israel is perfectly within its rights to enforce its immigration policies, giving people only one month to exit the country forever is too aggressive. That’s simply not enough time to rearrange one’s entire life. Plus, the threat of refugees being jailed if they can’t adhere to this time constraint is quite harsh.

A similar situation is unfolding in the U.S., with illegal immigration and deportation being one of the centers of political controversy and debate.

In Israel, however, after enacting this deportation policy, a plan is set into place, but whether Israel has the support and resources to follow through with that plan is another issue.

Along with the cultural backlash of the Jewish population, Israeli prison officials say they will be unable to hold massive amounts of people if many of the African refugees refuse to leave.

With the inability to fulfill its threat of imprisonment, the expulsion of thousands of Africans back to places where a greater chance of death awaits them and little support from its public, the Israeli government’s deportation policy should not stand.

If the goal is to protect Jewish character, then there is no better way to display that character to the world than to accept those seeking protection from persecution.

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