Earlier this month, 21 Eritrean asylum seekers, including a 14-year-old child and two pregnant women, spent over a week trapped between fences on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Egyptian border. As the temperatures soared, one of the women reportedly miscarried. The group was not provided with any shelter; the "most moral army in the world" gave the refugees only small amounts of water and scraps of cloth to protect themselves from the sun.
Soldiers did not give them food and turned away the activists who tried to bring the asylum seekers something to eat.
the two women and the child were let into Israel - where they were
taken to prison - and the men were returned to Egypt, reports surfaced
that the army behaved violently towards these refugees. According to the
three who entered, soldiers shot tear gas at the group and used an iron
pole in an attempt to push them back to Egypt. The 18 men who were
returned to Egypt were returned by force.
prohibits states from forcibly returning asylum seekers to countries
where their lives or liberty might be in danger, as does the 1951 United
Nations Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.
this was a dramatic example of the Israeli army's treatment of the
refugees, African refugees in Israel have faced the state's structural
violence and an increasingly hostile public for over six years.
small numbers of African asylum seekers have been coming to Israel
since the 1980s, a tremendous majority of the 60,000 refugees who are
here now have arrived since 2005. More than 80 per cent are from
war-torn Sudan or Eritrea, which are gripped by brutal dictatorships.
After they enter the country, usually via the Egyptian border, those who
are caught are jailed without charge for an arbitrary period; when
Israel needs to make way for more prisoners, the asylum seekers are
dumped in south Tel Aviv and other cities.
For those bearing the
scars of war, detention in Israel is traumatising. Sunday Dieng, a
26-year-old asylum seeker, left his village in South Sudan when he was
10 years old after he saw his parents murdered by Sudanese forces. In
Egypt, Dieng says, he faced racism and violence on the street. So, in
2006, he headed to Israel - only to spend his first 14 months behind
"To live in jail for one year and two months for no reason …
it's terrible, it's very difficult," Dieng says. "It causes some damage
to the [mind], because you know you didn't do anything wrong, you
didn't do any crime." Although Dieng was an adult when he arrived,
unaccompanied minors make up a significant part of Israel's refugee
population. And those children are also detained without charge.
out of jail, the state either refuses to process refugees' individual
requests for asylum or arbitrarily rejects them without adequately
investigating their claims. Instead, Israel gives citizens of Sudan and
Eritrea group protection. So they get visas but those visas aren't work
visas - forcing refugees onto the black market, where they face
Many are unable to find jobs at all and, because
they don't have citizenship or residency, they do not get help from the
state. South Tel Aviv's parks are filled with homeless, emaciated
refugees. Others scrape by on odd jobs and live in crowded apartments;
sometimes two dozen asylum seekers will share a single room.
children, even those who are born here and speak fluent Hebrew, are not
recognised by the state. Although they can attend municipal
kindergartens and schools from the age of three, before then, their
parents don't get help paying for day-care as poor Israelis do. So they
are forced to send their toddlers to cheaper, unregulated black market
day-cares, places one NGO worker refers to as "storage of children".
Hylameshesh, a single mother from Eritrea, earns approximately 2,000
Israeli shekels (Dh1,900) a month working as a house cleaner. Her rent
is 1,500 shekels; day-care for her toddler runs another 600 shekels.
What about food?
She shrugs and looks away, embarrassed. "It's hard for me," Hylameshesh says. But her child always eats.
When Hylameshesh doesn't have the money, she goes without food.
Guarnieri is a Jerusalem-based journalist and writer who is working on a
book about migrant workers and African refugees in Israel. She blogs at