Some 1,500 people marched through Jerusalem on Saturday night, calling on the government to halt plans to deport nearly 40,000 African migrants and asylum-seekers.
The protesters, both local residents and migrants, held up signs saying “no to forced deportations,” and “love your brother as you love yourself.” Others carried pictures of migrants who were deported from Israel and later reportedly died while trying to reach Europe.
Authorities have launched a major drive to deport the vast majority of the 38,000 African asylum seekers and migrants still in the country, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan.
Thousands of the migrants have been told they have 60 days to accept an offer to leave the country for an unnamed African destination — known through press reports to be Rwanda — in exchange for $3,500 and a plane ticket. Those who don’t leave by April 1 will be incarcerated indefinitely.
“We are calling on the government and our public representatives to stop this disaster,” Adi Har Tzvi, one of the organizers, told the Ynet news site. “Deportation is not the solution.”
“This deportation, if we don’t stop it, will be a stain on our morality as a society and a nation,” Har Zvi said.
Israeli officials insist the vast majority of the migrants, whom they refer to as “infiltrators,” are job seekers, and therefore do not have a special right to remain in the country after entering it illegally. The officials object to claims the policy is racist, noting that some 4,000 white Ukrainian and Georgians were deported for immigration offenses in 2017.
Backers of the asylum-seekers’ protest insist Israel has not been doing the minimum required by the 1951 Refugee Convention to ascertain whether the migrants are refugees. Only some 6,500 asylum seekers have gone through the Interior Ministry’s refugee status determination process, and just 11 of them, or 0.16 percent, were found eligible. Similar processes in most European countries found double-digit percentages qualified as refugees for migrant populations from Eritrea and Sudan.