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

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.”

Cyclone Mekunu heads for popular Omani resort after pummeling UNESCO-protected Socotra island

Updated 25 May 2018

Cyclone Mekunu heads for popular Omani resort after pummeling UNESCO-protected Socotra island

  • Cyclone Mekunu hit the Yemeni island of Socotra Wednesday night, causing severe flooding and damage to houses
  • Six boats lost, at least 11 people missing as cyclone Mekunu heads towards Oman

DUBAI: Oman’s popular tourist destination Salalah could be pounded by winds of up to 165 kilometers per hour if Cyclone Mekunu continues on its current path, a weather expert has told Arab News.

The cyclone – which has already pummeled Yemen’s UNESCO-protected Socotra island – has intensified to category 2 with winds reaching speeds of up to 170kph.

The Omani meteorology center issued a statement on Friday morning stating that the tropical cyclone was around 200km away from the southern city of Salalah.

Strong gale winds and heavy rainfall are expected to hit the costal areas of Dhofar on Friday the statement read, with warnings of flooding.

Salalah Port has been evacuated and will remain closed for the next 72 hours. While maximum wave height has been predicted to go as high as 12 meters with expected rising sea level.

Director of Meteology at the UAE weather center, Mohamad Al-Ebri, said on Thursday that if the cyclone continues on its current path, it could reach Salalah on Saturday morning.

“If this happens and the cyclone is still a category 2, then Salalah could be hit by the full force of the storm,” Al-Ebri explained.

Salalah International Airport will close for a duration of 24 hours from midnight on Thursday due to the cyclone. 

‘Disaster area’

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after the Cyclone hit the Yemeni island of Socotra on Wednesday night, causing severe flooding and damage to houses, officials said.

The governement declared the island a “disaster area”, calling for urgent assistance to those affected by the floods.

There were also reports of six boats which sank – four at sea and two in the port – as the cyclone passed.
There are at least 17 people missing, with conflicting reports of fatalities.

Another official said 150 families had been evacuated and moved to government facilities after downpours caused houses and streets to flood, trapping people in their homes.
Some residents carrying children tried to escape through the flooded streets, an AFP correspondent said.

Mohammed Saeed Hameed Assistant of the Under Secretary of the National Center of Meteorology of Yemen (NCMY), told Arab News there had been a number of warnings sent out in the last week.But he said not everyone had been aware of the cyclone as it approached.

“We have notified people, however the problem is the information does not always reach everyone, like those who were out at sea…. Two boats have sunk and 11 people are missing,” Hameed told Arab News.

“There is a lot of false information being shared on social media,” Hameed warned. “People must get the correct information from officials such as ourselves.” 

He said already the northeast and east sections of Socotra was the worst affected. 

He said they expected the storm to reach the coastal cities of Yemen in Mahrah, Hadramaut and then on towards Salalah. 

“We urge local officials in coastal towns to warn people of the cyclone. They must alert schools, mosques, hospitals and local community centers.” 

Oman prepares for the worst, hopes for the best

In neighboring Oman, authorities announced through the official news agency they were taking “necessary precautions” in case the cyclone hits the Gulf sultanate.

Rainfall had already been reported on Thursday afternoon in the province of Dhofar, southern Oman.


 James Hewitson, general manager of the five-star hotel Al-Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, told Arab News they were expecting the situation to worsen over the coming days.

“The wind has picked up since this morning.”

He said the hotel staff were preparing for the worst outcome, ensuring there was enough fuel to power the generators, should the main electricity supply be cut.

“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe,” Hewitson explained.

He said the hotel was well stocked for food and water and that at least one of the restaurants would remain open.

“We have about 50 guests staying with us at the moment,” Hewitson told Arab News. “Some are leaving tonight, some have chosen to leave and we are offering to compensate them with our sister hotels across Oman”

“At the end of today I expect I will have something between 40 to 50 guests staying… We have 250 staff members.” 

He explained that representatives from the Ministry of Tourism had visited in the morning.

“We have already taken down our outdoors furniture, and anything that is not bolted down has been put away so that the winds don’t blow them into anyone and hurt people like glass tables or umbrellas.” 

And he added that Muscat civil defense had sent a team to support in Salalah.

“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe.”

An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows people walking through flood water as they evacuate a flooded area during a cyclone in the Yemeni island of Socotra.

“Calm before the storm”
People were advised to avoid going out to sea following warnings off Oman’s southern and south coast of rough conditions with waves reaching heights of between five to eight meters.

Speaking to Arab News from Salalah, event organizer Abdulaziz Ahmed Yousuf Al-Amri said people were preparing for the worst.

“There are some parts of Salalah that have heavy rain… The weather is okay at the moment - but it feels like this is the calm before the storm.”

“We are praying that it will not be bad and will pass without any major impact.”

“But everyone is worried about what might happen, so they are getting ready,” Al-Amri added.“They are stocking up on water and food, just in case something bad does happen… They are putting gas in their cars.”

(Additional reporting by Peter Harrison, Rommer M. Balaba and AFP)


Rare, but it's happened before

In June 2016, a cyclone codenamed ‘02A’ developed in the Arabian Sea with winds reaching speeds of up to 35 knots – that’s 62 kilometers per hour. It was initially feared to hit Oman. The cyclone, which is rare in the region, eventually weakened to a tropical depression with maximum wind speeds dropping to 30 knots before dissipating in the Arabian Sea.