Activists to Israeli Pilots: Don’t Fly African Refugees to Their Deaths!

Distressed by the far-right government’s decision to begin the massive deportations of Africans in March, MKs Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List), Michal Rozin (Meretz), and Eyal Ben-Reuven (Labor) announced a special emergency conference on refugees and asylum-seekers in the Knesset for next Wednesday, January 17.

The conference will include civil-society organizations, academics, lawyers and experts in the field, along with asylum-seekers and refugees who will present their stories.

“In the discussion, we will examine the extent of the phenomenon and present the current situation in order to formulate a plan of action for the future that will benefit residents of south Tel Aviv and refugees and asylum-seekers in Israel,” the MKs said in a statement.

Signs in Tel Aviv, where thousands of African asylum seekers reside: "South Tel Aviv against deportation"

Signs in Tel Aviv, where thousands of African asylum seekers reside: “South Tel Aviv against deportation” (Photo: Beit Achoti)

Amid growing reports that the government is planning to deport tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to Rwanda and Uganda in March, an online campaign has been launched to beseech Israeli pilots not to fly African asylum-seekers to what many activists deem a death sentence.

German pilots established a precedent by stopping 222 deportations between January and September 2017. In most cases, the pilot refused to fly after being notified that an Afghan was on board. Airlines have been hesitant to cooperate with such expulsions, in part due to concerns of disturbances on the flights.

The campaign, initiated this week by Zazim Community Action, calls on the public to send letters to the Israel Aviation Association and the Israel Pilots Association, which includes all the pilots in the country, to refuse to fly migrants to any dangerous African country.

Outside of Israel, prominent leaders of the US Jewish community sent a public letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, January 8, urging Israel not to imprison or deport tens of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers.

Rather, the leaders – who sent an initial letter regarding the controversial issue to Netanyahu in November – urged him to allow North American Jews to help resolve the matter. Signatories include Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees; Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street; and Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.

“The government of Israel recently announced its plans to imprison or potentially deport tens of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers unless they leave voluntarily before April,” the letter states.

“The ultimatum follows a mounting campaign of escalation on the part of the Israeli government to pressure the roughly 38,000 African asylum-seekers remaining in Israel to self-deport. While Israeli authorities contend that the population in question – most of whom entered Israel between 2007 and 2012 – are economic migrants, HIAS and other rights groups argue that they are asylum-seekers and refugees deserving of protection.”

The letter continues: “Israel’s Ministry of Interior acknowledges that thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel have submitted written asylum requests and are awaiting a response, while thousands more have been prevented from doing so… Media reports indicate that Rwanda and Uganda would be the African countries which asylum-seekers currently in Israel would have the choice of traveling to, but the countries deny that such an agreement with Israel has been made.”