NEW YORK - After thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya to protest the deportation of asylum seekers from Israel to the African country, thousands more joined them in protest outside Rwandan missions around the world in over a dozen cities.
The cold and heavy rain did not deter some 40 protesters who held signs before the Rwandan mission to the United Nations in New York. They read “All deportation is forced,” and “Rwanda yes we know.”
Michael Sfard, a Tel Aviv–based human rights lawyer who represents victims of civil rights violations, told the crowd he is ashamed that his own government “does not live up to the lessons that should have been learned from our own history, from our own collective biography.”
Sfard added that he cannot escape the conclusion that the reason for targeting asylum seekers in Israel has to do with the color of their skin, calling it a “crime against humanity.” He pleaded the Rwandan government “to not aid and abet this crime.”
Protestors are hoping that the mounting pressure will cause Rwanda to back off from a reported deal to accept over 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers from Israel.
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According to various publications, Israel and Rwanda signed a secret accord in which Israel would pay the Rwandan government $5,000 for every deported refugee. Rwanda denied the existence of such a deal.
Following reports on conditions and consequences of such deportations, including severe exploitation, human trafficking and secondary deportation to their country of origin, organizers of the New York protest called Israel's plan for asylum seekers “a death sentence” and a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and decided they cannot stay silent.
“It’s unthinkable that in 2018 Israel would risk the lives of 40,000 people when there’s no reason not to let them stay in Israel, there’s no reason and no economic burden,” said Moran Levy, 32, a Columbia University student who organized the New York City protest. “Meanwhile the government is approving new visas for new migrant workers. We can’t just be indifferent, stand aside and let this happen,” she said.
Other protests took place worldwide – from Paris to Beijing, from Melbourne to Toronto.
In Berlin, chants of “Bibi, Kagame, stop the deportation” were heard outside the Rwandan embassy, referring to the countries’ leaders. Organizers in Toronto stated they are “African refugees who were unwelcomed by Israel but warmly welcomed by Canadians” who decided to join the protest at the Consulate of Rwanda in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Israel. In Stockholm organizers held signs that read “Human lives are not for sale,” and “one refugee for $5,000.”
The movement expanded on social media under the title “stop deporting refugees” and sparked discussion.
The New York protest’s event page on Facebook was scattered with questions about protesting the other side of the alleged deal. “Shouldn't this action be at the Israeli Consulate?” asked one user.
“Israel does not care much about international opinion, while Rwanda might,” replied organizer Sarah Stone, as Levy added she indeed plans to organize an Israeli-focused protest in the upcoming weeks.
On twitter, protesters used the #refugees4sale hashtag and raised questions such as “Do Black Lives Matter in Israel?“
In a statement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel encouraged people to join the worldwide demonstrations. “It is as simple as that: if Rwanda refuses to accept deportees - there will be no deportation!” it read.
“I am also proud,” Sfard concluded as he spoke to the protesters, “that there are voices in the Israeli public, in the Jewish communities around the world and here in New York, in America, who say no more. We will not agree to that. You that arrived here this evening are part of a wave that will not allow this crime against humanity to take place.”