Israel implements plan to expel African migrants

Israelis take part in a demonstration titled the "March of Shame", as they protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Israel implements plan to expel African migrants

JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday began implementing a plan to force tens of thousands of African migrants out of the country by April, threatening to arrest those who stay.
“This plan will get under way today,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
Under the program, some 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, will have until the end of March to leave.
Each will receive a plane ticket and $3,500 (2,900 euros) to do so. After the deadline, this amount will decrease and those who continue to refuse to go will face arrest.
Holot, an open facility in Israel’s desert south that can host 1,200 migrants who are allowed to leave to work during the day, is also set to be closed.
It currently holds 970 people, the interior ministry said this week.
The plan was originally approved by the cabinet in November, drawing concern from the UN refugee agency.

Wednesday’s cabinet session marked the program’s transition from the planning stage to action, migrant aid worker Adi Drori-Avraham told AFP.
“We see here the implementation of the decision,” said Drori-Avraham of the Tel Aviv-based Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF).
The Africans currently hold short-term residence visas which must be renewed every two months.
“From today when a person goes to request an extension to their visa, if he does not have a pending asylum application... his visa will not be renewed and he will be given a deportation order,” she added.
She said that under the new regulations there was also an option for the authorities “not even to threaten them with a choice of voluntary departure or jail, simply to seize them and take them to a plane.”
“At the moment there are exceptions for women, children, parents of children and victims of human trafficking, but the procedural rules make it clear that those exemptions are only temporary,” she added.
In his comments to the cabinet and media, Netanyahu defended the plan.
“Every country must maintain its borders, and protecting the borders from illegal infiltration is both a right and a basic duty of a sovereign state,” he said.
But Tsgahans Goytiom, a 30-year-old Eritrean in south Tel Aviv, said he felt that he and his fellow refugees were being treated like commodities.
“I see the situation now as very bad and difficult,” he told AFP in Hebrew. “We are being traded.”
“I am not from Uganda or Rwanda,” he added. “How come the prime minister decided to send people to other countries?“
Israel tacitly recognizes that the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, so it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing migrants on condition they consent to the arrangement, activists say.
A 2016 UN commission of inquiry into Eritrea’s harsh regime found “widespread and systematic” crimes against humanity and said an estimated 5,000 people flee the country each month.
The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to his regime’s counter-insurgency tactics in the 14-year-old conflict in Darfur.
Migrants started coming in large numbers across the porous border between Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 2007, when nearly 5,000 entered, interior ministry figures show.
The government has since completed fencing the border and deploying electronic sensors. In the first six months of last year, no one made it across.
Over the years, those caught at the Egyptian frontier were detained at prisons in the Negev desert in southern Israel.
On release they were given bus tickets to Tel Aviv, arriving at the central bus station on the south side of the city, where many have since remained.
Israeli residents of southern Tel Aviv have long complained of their presence and right-wing politicians have pledged to heed calls to force them out, often with harsh rhetoric.
During a visit there in August, Netanyahu pledged to “return south Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel,” adding that the Africans were “not refugees but illegal infiltrators.”


UN envoy due in Yemen as strains escalate with Houthi missile launch

Updated 25 June 2018
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UN envoy due in Yemen as strains escalate with Houthi missile launch

RIYADH/ADEN: The Iran-aligned Houthi movement fired missiles at the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Sunday, escalating tensions ahead of a visit by the UN envoy to Yemen this week to try to avert a military assault on the country’s main port city.
A Houthi spokesman has threatened more attacks in response to the offensive launched by a Saudi-led coalition on June 12 to seize control of Hodeidah port, long a key target, in an attempt to weaken the Houthis by cutting their main supply line.
The United Nations fears that an assault on the Red Sea port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, could trigger a famine imperilling millions of lives.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths is due in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the legitimate government’s temporary capital, government officials said.
One official said Griffiths would be there only for a few hours for talks focused on averting an assault on the port.
“There is a proposal on the table,” the foreign minister of Hadi’s government, Khaled Al-Yamani, told reporters in Riyadh.
“We would accept a peace initiative on the condition that militias leave the western coast,” he said at a joint press conference to announce a $40 million project launched by Saudi Arabia for de-mining operations in Yemen.
The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of the port to the United Nations, sources told Reuters. A US official said Washington was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.
The coalition said on Monday that eight members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group had been killed in battles in the mountainous Saada region in Yemen’s northwest, which is held by the Houthis along with the capital Sanaa.
Hezbollah officials could not be immediately reached for comment, but the group has previously denied Saudi accusations that it is helping Houthi rebels.
MISSILES OVER RIYADH
Saudi air defense forces intercepted two rockets over Riyadh late on Sunday, sending debris measuring up to several meters hurtling toward residential areas.
Pieces fell near the US mission in the Saudi capital and at a school in the diplomatic quarter. Debris sparked a fire at a construction site 10 km (six miles) further south and fell on the roof of a private residence, but Saudi officials said there were no casualties.
“Our rockets will reach places that the enemy will not expect,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said. “The longer the aggression and war continue, the greater our ballistic missile capabilities.”
Coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said the alliance’s advances on Hodeidah and other fronts were pushing the Houthis to try to project strength through such attacks.
Coalition-backed forces seized Hodeidah airport last week and have been consolidating their hold in the area as more Houthi fighters, many armed with Ak-47 assault rifles, were deployed in the city and around the port.
The United Nations fears heavy fighting will worsen what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.
The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from smuggling in Iranian-made missiles, accusations denied by the group and Tehran.
The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of goods.