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February 23, 2018 7:00 am

Many of Israel’s African Migrants Are Not Seeking Asylum — and Should Not Be Treated as Such

avatar by Eytan Meir

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The Tel Aviv shoreline. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past several weeks, there has been increasing hysteria surrounding the Israeli government’s plan to deport thousands of illegal African migrants from Israel.

Opponents of the plan — which include among them left-wing critics of Israel led by the US-based New Israel Fund — view the impending deportation as cruel and inhumane, believing that sending the migrants back to their continent of origin means sending them to their deaths.

Like with other contentious political issues, there has been an utter disregard of facts by those seeking to reverse the government’s policy. This has resulted in exaggerated and groundless claims — including disturbing Holocaust-themed analogies.

The chief talking point of the anti-deportation campaign — that the migrants are asylum seekers — is based on a false premise that has been contradicted by the migrants themselves, 70% of whom have not even submitted requests for asylum.

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It is for this reason that four out of every five migrants are men in prime working age, rather than the diverse age and gender group that one would expect to see in a refugee population.

The second main talking point, that deportation to Rwanda or Uganda represents a danger to the migrants, has been unequivocally repudiated by Israel’s Supreme Court (hardly the embodiment of a right-wing agenda) — and the United Nations, to boot.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, boasts on its website that Rwanda is now “one of the safest countries in Africa,” and offers Rwandan expatriates $250 to return (which is some $3,250 less than what the Israeli government is offering). And just the other week, the UNHCR High Commissioner praised Uganda for having one of the most “progressive refugee policies in Africa, if not the world.”

In addition to ignoring the facts about the illegal migrants and their deportation destinations, opponents of the government’s policy have been spreading deliberate misinformation about the details of the plan itself.

Contrary to the implication of all the immigrant children featured on anti-deportation ads, the plan does not currently include families with children. Only unmarried adult males are set to be deported at this stage.

Lastly, opponents of the deportation have downplayed the ramifications of what legalizing the migrants would mean for Israel.

According to the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, one out of every nine children in Tel-Aviv currently has non-Israeli parents. Moreover, the approximately 40,000 migrants currently residing in Israel are the per capita equivalent of over 1.5 million people in the United States. This is not some negligible minority — but may present a significant demographic challenge to the Jewish state.

Holier-than-thou opponents of the deportation have also turned a blind eye to the residents of South Tel Aviv, who for years have been impacted by the side effects of the migrants’ presence in their neighborhood.

No one should begrudge people seeking a better life, but as a sovereign nation, Israel needs to ensure that the economic aspirations of others do not occur at the expense of its own citizens.

This dishonest and sensationalized effort to thwart the government’s plan should be rejected by all those who have Israel’s best interests at heart.

The writer is the director of external relations and development for Im Tirtzu.

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