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.”


Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

Updated 20 October 2019

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

  • The Lebanese Forces party has four ministers in the Hariri-led ruling coalition
  • Protesters in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre demand that others remaining in power also quit

BEIRUT: Lebanon's "strong republic" bloc quit the coalition government on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government ahead of the 72-hour deadline that Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave to partners in power to help make his reform programs work.
Geagea's Christian party has four ministers in the coalition government, namely: Ghassan Hasbani, Kamil Abu Suleiman, Richard Qayomjian and May Chidiac.
"Since people have lost confidence in the political class, and since the people in the street represent all segments of society and because all components of the government does not want serious and actual reform, we were the first party to act with transparency and when discussing the 2020 budget, we demanded a basket of immediate reforms, but we did not feel the seriousness required," Geagea told a late night press conference that extended into the early hours of Sunday.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Geagea. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
He denied "any talk of an agreement with Prime Minister Hariri regarding the resignation of ministers."
Geagea's announcement was welcomed by the protesters, who are still sit in yards in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre. They demanded the resignation of the remaining in power.

'Sweeping overhaul needed'
The protesters took to the streets despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday. Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have blocked main roads and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influences.
Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the coalition party’s resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.
“I am thinking maybe it’s better all the government resign,” said one protester, 24-year-old Ali. “I am thinking maybe it’s better to go to another election as people already woke up.”
The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh Al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.

AI slams 'use of excessive force'
Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.
“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering — in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.
Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tires and other obstacles.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 US-cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
Prime Minister Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give back a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing desperately needed economic assistance from donors.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, told protesters Saturday their “message was heard loudly.”
But he warned against demanding the resignation of the government — saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

Protesters attacked in Tyre
In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country’s senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — more than 150 percent of gross domestic product — according to the finance ministry.

(With AFP)