'We have a duty to guard against illegal infiltrators'

Netanyahu: Israel won’t sign global migration pact, must protect its borders

PM says Israel will withdraw from nonbinding compact, which is set to be approved at UN gathering in Morocco next month; US among others also rejecting it

Eritrean demonstrators chanted "Refugees, not infiltrators," outside of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzilya on January 22, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/ Times of Israel)
Eritrean demonstrators chanted "Refugees, not infiltrators," outside of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzilya on January 22, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/ Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that Israel would not be joining the United Nations’ global migration pact, set to be signed next month in Marrakech, Morocco, by most of the world’s governments. The US is among several other countries that have also rejected the pact.

“I instructed the Foreign Ministry to announce that Israel won’t participate [in the Marrakech gathering] and won’t sign the migration pact,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press.

“We have a duty to protect our borders against illegal infiltrators. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we will continue to do,” the terse statement concluded.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which will not be legally binding, was finalized under UN auspices in July. It is due to be formally approved at a December 11-12 meeting in Marrakech.

In September 2016, all 193 UN member states, including the United States under former president Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own, and agreed to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018.

The declaration followed vast waves of migrants fleeing in recent years from conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa to Europe and the West.

Thousands of Syrian refugees walk from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, June 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

Antagonism in Israel toward migrants has hardened in recent years with an estimated 35,000 African migrants in the country facing hostility from lawmakers and residents in communities with high migrant populations. According to a Pew Research Center survey last month, 57 percent of Israelis oppose accepting refugees fleeing war and conflict, ranking well behind that of citizens in many other Western countries.

The High Court of Justice has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.

The Africans, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005, through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.

Netanyahu’s Tuesday announcement was welcomed by fellow Likud lawmaker Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said she had spoken with the prime minister about the issue yesterday.

She cited the new Jewish Nation-State Law, which she said required the government “to stand up for a clear migration policy that protects our borders from illegal infiltrators.”

African migrants take part at a protest against the “Deposit Law” in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2017. African asylum seekers protest on Saturday against the “Deposit Law”, following which Eritreans and Sudanese are required to deposit fifth percent of their salary. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Meretz MK Michal Rozin, a former chair of the Knesset’s special committee on foreign laborers, slammed the decision.

“This is yet another example of the moral bankrupting of the State of Israel,” she charged. “It’s the result of the prime minister’s cleaving to the extremist right in Israel, in Europe and in the United States.”

She added: “The State of Israel, so many of whose founders were themselves refugees fleeing murderous and cruel regimes and which was among the leading nations in the articulation of the UN Refugee Convention, must not join the forces of hate, division and chauvinism.”

Netanyahu is not alone in rejecting the new pact.

Last December, the United States said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact, stating that numerous provisions were “inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies” under President Donald Trump.

In July, Hungary said it would withdraw from the process. In October, the Austrian government followed suit, citing concerns about national sovereignty.

Australia, Poland, Bulgaria and Austria have also either announced their withdrawal from the initiative or voiced serious concerns.

The compact has 23 objectives that seek to boost cooperation to manage migration and numerous actions ranging from technical issues like the portability of earnings by migrant workers to reducing the detention of migrants.

EU heavyweight Germany reaffirmed its support for the pact, which foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said last month was “necessary and important.”

AP contributed to this report.

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