WASHINGTON - Two of the oldest national Jewish organizations in the United States have sent a joint letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to change Israels policy of deporting African asylum seekers from the country. The leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, a veteran organization devoted to fighting racism and anti-semitism, and of HIAS, an organization founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society working to support refugees, stated that Israels deportation policy could put peoples lives at risk.
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The sweeping nature of this deportation scheme, coupled with the extreme difficulty to access the Israeli asylum system is having a devastating impact on the refugee community in Israel and betrays the core values that we, as Jews, share, wrote Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of ADL, and Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS.
Our objections to the new Israeli government plan stem from numerous reports which indicate that those asylum seekers who previously left Israel have been unable to return safely to their home countries, and many have encountered violence and inhumane living conditions in countries they have sought refuge in, Greenblatt and Hetfield explained.
They added that testimonies of people who were relocated by Israel to third countries in Africa indicate that they did not find durable protection there and risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya to seek protection elsewhere. Some have drowned at sea en route to Europe, while others were reportedly detained, tortured and extorted by human traffickers.
They ended the letter by stating that As American Jews, one of our greatest concerns is the well-being and security of Israel; we want to see it prosper and overcome all of the challenges its precarious location imposes on it. We also care about our shared Jewish values and refugee heritage—a very human concern that reaches across borders and distances—and unifies us as a people.
Greenblatt and Hatfields letter to Netanyahu joins other appeals by Jewish American leaders on this subject. Last week, the heads of a number of other Jewish groups also published a letter against the deportation plan. Among those who signed it were the leaders of the Reform Movements Religious Action Center and the National Council of Jewish Women.
The Prime Ministers Office stated in reply to those letters that the overwhelming majority of the illegal migrants who have arrived in Israel over the past decade are neither refugees nor asylum seekers, but rather economic migrants who have come to Israel in search of work. The Government of Israel has taken a number of steps to prevent illegal immigration and to deport migrants who are already here.
There are some 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese natives living in Israel, who have another 5,000 children who were born here. The overwhelming majority of the adults have temporary visas that they must renew every three months. The next time many of them come to renew their visas, they will be told it is the last renewal and that they will have to leave before the visa expires. The authority will propose that they either return to their countries of origin, or leave for Uganda or Rwanda.