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  April 27, 2011

Israel Denies Refugee Status to Sudanese


Shir Hever: Israel approves concentration camps to hold Sudanese refugees as protesters call for expulsion
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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. In Israel: protests calling for the expulsion of African refugees in Tel Aviv.

~~~

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It's a time bomb for the Negros, the illegal infiltrators and the residents. It's a time bomb that could blow up in our faces. We might suffer small-time, but you will suffer big-time.

~~~

JAY: The story behind this is now delivered to us by Shir Hever. Shir is a researcher at the joint Palestinian organization the Alternative Information Center. He's author of The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation. He's now in Germany. Thanks, Shir.

SHIR HEVER: Hello, Paul.

JAY: So what is the story on these protests against African refugees? And how did they get there?

HEVER: There are a lot of refugees from Sudan that are fleeing through Egypt, and some of them are trying to reach Israel. Some of them have succeeded in reaching Israel. And Israel has--although it has historically been one of the countries that helped formulate laws for refugee rights, mainly in light of the Holocaust, is now trying to avoid accepting any more African refugees. These refugees are treated in Israel as a kind of danger to the Israeli demographic and ethnic makeup. Israel's minister of the interior said that they are bringing dangerous diseases with them. And Israel's prime minister, Netanyahu, said that they are changing the fabric of Israel's society, even though we are talking about between 30,000 and 40,000 people, so under 1 percent of Israel's population. And, actually, they're not trying to settle permanently in Israel, but they're just waiting until the situation in Sudan will be safer for them so that they can return.

JAY: Now, it's not so easy to get into Israel. It's not like you can just show up at the border and knock on a door and walk in. So Israeli authorities have allowed them to come in as refugees.

HEVER: The border between Israel and Egypt is a long border, a desert border that is patrolled by Israeli soldiers. When the refugees cross the desert and try to enter Israel, sometimes they're caught. But it really depends on where they are caught and whether the soldiers agree to let them in or not, because the refugees would basically explain to the soldiers that if they're turned back, it could spell a death sentence to them. If Egypt will not have them and they will be returned to Sudan, they will be killed. Now, the government tries to implement a kind of policy that they call "hot return", that if the refugee hasn't crossed the border for a very long time and was caught very quickly, then they could still be deported to Egypt very rapidly before they're even processed into the system, before their passports are even checked. But a lot of Israeli soldiers have actually refused to comply with these orders, saying that it's just not humane. And so the government is looking for other solutions. One of these solutions, they've already started building a big concentration camp right on the border of Egypt, which will house these refugees and basically keep them under detention until something will be decided about them.

JAY: So if Israel helped draft international refugee laws, one would assume they're signatories to international refugee laws. Are they following international law on these things?

HEVER: Well, they're definitely not following international law, and they refuse to award these refugees refugee status. They're refusing to recognize that these people actually have refugee status. And this creates some kind of friction with the UN over these refugees. But, of course, we have to put this in perspective. Israel continues to ignore its obligation towards the Palestinian refugees that were deported in 1948, and also some, a small number, that were deported in 1967. And since these refugees, which are also recognized under international law as refugees, are completely ignored by Israel and Israel completely disavows its responsibility towards them, the story of the African refugees is just another drop in this sea of cruelty, basically, towards human beings.

JAY: And is there any steps being taken to deport the African refugees?

HEVER: Yes, there are many steps being taken to deport them. But one of the problems is that it is difficult to deport people to countries that Israel doesn't have diplomatic relations with, like Sudan, that--Israel also has delicate relation with Egypt, which will also not be very happy about Israel deporting the refugees back to Egypt directly. So, instead, most of the policies are about trying to make the refugee's life as hard as possible within Israel so that they will voluntarily leave. One of the policies was to make it illegal for them to work anywhere close to the centers of employment in Israel. So they will only be allowed to find employment in the very distant periphery of Israel, where the population is quite low and jobs are very scarce anyway.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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