Netanyahu sneaks fresh peek at African migrants in south Tel Aviv
Accompanied by Aryeh Deri, prime minister revisits neighborhoods he toured last week for candid look at community’s struggles
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured south Tel Aviv for a second time in less than a week Sunday evening, in what was described as an “undercover” peep at the large community of undocumented African migrants in the area.
Accompanied by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Netanyahu visited the same areas he toured on a similar visit Thursday, only this time without any prior warning or arrangements, in order to gain a more candid view of the neighborhood’s alleged woes, according to Deri’s spokesperson.
The influx of African migrants into the working class area of Tel Aviv in recent years has sparked anger among local residents, who claim the asylum-seekers bring crime. Protests by residents have stepped up in recent days around a court ruling that found Israel could only detain migrants for 60 days and could not forcibly deport them to a third country.
The two walked around the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, Levinsky Park and the Hatikvah neighborhood.
Netanyahu, who last week announced his intention to establish a ministerial committee to deal with the issue, denied earlier Sunday that the asylum-seekers, most of whom hail from Sudan and Eritrea, were actually refugees.
“Most of them are looking for jobs,” he asserted, adding that Israel had the right to “remove [the] illegal aliens who don’t belong here.”
Netanyahu’s tour on Thursday, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture Minister Miri Regev, came on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling last week that the government could continue with its controversial practice of deporting undocumented migrants to an unnamed third country, but said the government cannot jail those who refuse to go for more than 60 days.
“We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents,” the prime minister said on Thursday. “I’ve heard the residents, and what I hear is pain and crisis. People are afraid to leave their homes.”
Netanyahu has said the government will take a three-pronged approach to the problem.
Measures include a security fence along the border with Egypt which has already succeeded in significantly reducing the number of migrants who cross into Israel from African countries, increased enforcement against those employ illegal migrants and migrants who break the law, and the ministerial committee that the prime minister said he will lead himself and will meet for the first time on Thursday.
South Tel Aviv residents last week applauded his comments and chanted slogans against the Supreme Court.
According to the African Refugee Development Center, there are approximately 46,437 Africans in Israel who consider themselves asylum seekers. The majority, 73 percent, are from Eritrea, and approximately 19% are from Sudan.
Israel’s practice of expelling asylum-seekers to a third country is largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local courts.
In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.
Deri has said he will push legislation that allows Israel to forcibly deport migrants to a third country.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.