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Israeli Comptroller Slams Government Policy on African Migrants

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blocked an illegal influx of Africans into Israel in recent years and pressed the tens of thousands of migrants there to leave – calling them an existential threat to the country.

But on Wednesday Israel’s state comptroller issued a stinging indictment of government handling of some 50,000 migrants living in the country, saying that they are barred from a minimal level of subsistence and that the situation likely violates Israeli constitutional law on human dignity as well as international conventions on human rights and refugees.

African migrants gathered outside the Holot detention center in Israel’s Negev desert.
Associated Press

The annual report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said the absence of any overarching government policy toward the migrants “is leading to an injury in the ability of the foreigners to enjoy social security and an acceptable standard of living – such as housing, food, clothes – as demanded by international treaties.”

Citing limited access to Israeli public health or social welfare services for the Africans, the report “raises doubts if the actions of the government…are line with the instructions of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” a reference to one of Israel’s constitutional laws.

In response to the report, the prime minister’s office insisted the Africans are being treated in accordance with international law, but added that the government is “determined” to continue efforts to repatriate the migrants to Africa.

The African migrants, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, say they are refugees and want political asylum, but the government considers them illegal infiltrators seeking work. The report refers to them as “un-expellable foreigners,” but stopped short of digging into Israel’s handling of request for political asylum and the refusal of the government to recognize them as refugees – a bone of contention with United Nations officials.

In a 64-page chapter on the Africans that echoed long-standing criticisms made by Israeli and international human rights groups, the comptroller noted that while the government doesn’t actively deport the migrants it also doesn’t allow most of them to be legally employed.

The report accuses the government of ignoring requests for guidance and public funding by Israeli officials in order to better handle the migrants. The neglect has worsened the living conditions in Tel Aviv’s working class neighborhoods, where residents have protested against the African influx and called on the government to move the migrants elsewhere, the report said.

The report comes several months after thousands of Africans staged several days of demonstrations outside of foreign embassies in Tel Aviv to demand refugee status and to protest the opening of a new detention center. Mr. Netanyahu, who has called the African migrants a threat to Israeli national security and its identity as a Jewish state, vowed to keep up the pressure on them to leave.

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(via WSJ Blogs)