From the beginning, Israel has allowed unregulated immigration and instant citizenship for Jews. It started being a bit of a problem when African Jews claimed the same right as European Jews, and the country’s treatment of Jews from Ethopia and the Horn of Africa has been an embarrassment for the nation. They frequently ended up in under-supplied camps.
Now, Israel is being swamped with non-Jewish African refugees from war zones like Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, many of them migrant workers who fled Egypt and Libya during their revolutions. Approximately 60,000 Africans have made their way overland to Israel and crossed the desert to illegally enter the country. Some had relatives who had already settled in Israel and were ransomed from captors for tens of thousands of dollars.
Over 3,500 arrived in January alone and they are turning city parks into tent cities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to “stop this flood we are witnessing.”
The flood taps into two issues in Israel. The first is maintaining the European Jewish majority in Israel. The second is the size of Israel and the lack of good land for everyone they already have. They have been involved in an aggressive campaign to get people to settle in the Negev Desert because it is so underdeveloped, but it also lacks water, seriously lacks water.
Israel is easy to reach and divorced from the problems of Africa. Honestly, the continent is one huge mess. The Mediterranean coast used to be stable and welcomed migrant workers, but the Arab Spring has unsettled North Africa. The Qaddafi regime used mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to fight the revolutionaries, fueling a distrust across the region for darker-skinned Africans. The economic disruption of revolution has made the people of North Africa resistant to having any foreign workers of any kind. The African people are caught in the middle. Below the Sahara are countries at war in one form or another. Above the Sahara are nations in flux that don’t want foreigners. There is only one way to go – northeast to the Arab world and Israel.
Israel has responded with stricter immigration laws and punish illegal immigrants with up to three years in prison. A large detention center near the Egyptian border is being expanded to accommodate thousands of illegals. Workers who were already in Israel, Asians and Latin Americans, are being denied permanent residence or citizenship, even for those members of their families who have been born in Israel.
The new Israeli attitude was expressed by Yossi Edelstein, a senior Interior Ministry official. These people aren’t refugees. They are first and foremost infiltrators to Israel.” Edelstein claimed that they are ending up in Israel because Europe has gotten stricter about allowing asylum seekers in.
The deaths of unknown numbers of migrant workers trying to flee Libya during the revolution in old boats on the Mediterranean helped force so many to seek an overland route to safety. The sheer numbers are overwhelming Israeli and international aid groups and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The clinic set up by Physicians for Human Rights in south Tel Aviv deals with festering gunshot wounds and women seeking abortions because they were raped on route. Almost all their patients are suffering from starvation and the long term effects of dehydration and sun exposure.
Israel is building a new fence across their Sinai border, both to stop terrorists and to stop the refugees. They are also offering the refugees money, about $1,000 each, to leave.
The situation is splitting Israel’s Likud party. Parliament Speaker, Reuven Rivlin expressed his belief that Israel has a “sacred obligation” to help displaced persons, having found refuge themselves after centuries of persecution. “We are a people that knows to respect a person fleeing his country for fear of his life,” he told a Parliamentary committee, while acknowledging the logistics crisis, asking that plan be created so that “…these people seeking political asylum are rescued, but that this doesn’t involve a chance for them to seek Israeli citizenship.”
There are tens of millions of displaced persons in the world. These 60,000 are a very tiny part of the problem of nations where guns are more plentiful than ballot boxes, where ancient rivalries and modern animosities are allowed to destroy ordinary lives. Africa, the Middle East and South Central Asia will continue to be the source of these refugees until stability can be created in their lands they are fleeing. God knows how long that could take.