GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Israel has begun an airlift to send home 4,500 illegal workers from S Sudan, with the first 120 flown out Sunday 17 June. Reuters reports that they are only the first wave of what could be 60,000 illegal immigrants that Israel wants to send home, saying they are not asylum seekers but jobhunters who have crossed the “porous” border with Egypt. Night-times roundups last week put thousands of workers in jail for illegal stays in the country, but Israel has agreed that any S Sudanese who do not want to go home will be able to have interviews with humanitarian organizations.
“The government has seized on the few hundred South Sudanese migrants, whose de facto refugee status was rescinded by an Israeli court this month, and whose government, sympathetic to Israel, is happy to take them back. Attempts to return migrants to Eritrea or Sudan are unlikely to be met with similar cooperation,” notes Reuters.
The Jerusalem Post says these two groups cannot be sent home. “Currently Israel cannot legally deport migrants from Sudan, an enemy state where they would stand to face persecution upon return, or Eritreans, who are citizens of a police state and would potentially be in grave danger if sent back. As a result, both groups are granted group protection status and cannot be deported, giving them de-facto refugee status without the rights that refugee status affords.”
South Sudan has agreed to set up its embassy in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, according to allAfrica, becoming the only nation to recognize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
AllAfrica reports that Israel’s prime minister has ordered the eviction of 25,000 people, while also “speeding up the building of a detention centre in the Negev desert to accommodate refugees who cannot be deported.” The country is reportedly spending $160 million to build a fence on the border with Egypt.
The New York Times reports that the moves are the result of growing tensions, but that some Israelis have mixed feelings. “Many residents here in the Neve Shaanan area of south Tel Aviv complain of rampant crime by migrants and say that it has become ‘Soweto’, a reference to the site of a 1976 uprising in South Africa. At a recent protest fanned by right-wing politicians, one lawmaker described the Africans, known here as ‘infiltrators’, as ‘a cancer in our body’. Later, Africans’ stores and apartments were attacked. But the government clampdown is also ripping at Israel’s soul. For some, the connotations of roundups and the prospect of mass detentions cut too close to the bone.”