The ongoing controversy over Israel’s treatment of African immigrants came to the streets of London as more than 100 Eritrean refugees protested outside the Israeli embassy.
Thousands of young men flee every year to escape compulsory national
service and the ruling régime. Human trafficking, arms smuggling, rape,
murder and electrocution are among the risks they face as they travel
from Eritrea through Sudan and the Sinai desert in an effort to cross
Last Friday’s protest, organised by Eritrean Youth Solidarity for
Change and Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea, was in response to
Israeli plans for a large detention centre for African immigrants, near
the Egyptian border.
There was a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv earlier this
summer, and Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai waged a war of words
on African immigrants, blaming them for spreading disease and crime and
threatening to fine local authorities which employ illegal immigrants.
Protesters in London also delivered a petition, signed by more than
2,300 people, to Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub. It raised the issue of
“alarming increases in the discriminatory treatment of Eritrean refugees
The petition stated: “Such senseless hate, fuelled in part by
right-wing politicians, has led to Eritreans being attacked on the
street and in their homes. Eritreans today are living in a general
climate of fear in Israel.”
Hermon Yohannes of the EYSC said: “This emergency protest was in
response to the imminent building of the detention centre and Eli
Yishai’s calls for Sudanese refugees to be rounded up in Israel, and for
Eritreans to be next.
“We wanted to highlight what appears to be inhumane treatment. Israel
has an obligation to follow the Refugee Convention and we urge it to
uphold international standards.”
An Israeli embassy spokesman said the partially-constructed centre
was being used “to facilitate eligibility for refugee status and to
provide a venue where illegal migrants can reside, with all humanitarian
requirements, until they can be repatriated”.
The spokesman added: “The ongoing flow of illegal migrants, be it to
Israel or any other country, is not sustainable and will bring no real
benefit to anyone. Unlike a number of European countries which have a
policy of forced repatriation, Israel has a policy that illegal migrants
are only repatriated with the agreement and co-operation of their home
countries, something which we do not currently have with Eritrea.”