24 May 2012
Shavuot, when Jews around the world read the book of Ruth, is a festival when traditional Jewish tolerance towards the foreigners in their midst is highlighted. But as this year's holiday is celebrated, the vitriol towards Israel's African refugees has reached a fever pitch, and has spilled over to threats against NIF grantee Hotline for Migrant Workers. One caller even threatened to burn down the organization's offices.
Hotline for Migrant Workers Executive Director Reut Michaeli reminded leading government ministers that incitement to hatred is not the solution for a successful policy dealing with the issue of forced migration. Interior Minister Eli Yishai recently proposed jailing all refugees saying, "I want everyone to be able to walk the streets without fear or trepidation," scapegoating Israel's African refugees for rising crime rates and threatening national security. Such misinformation is dangerous, and police figures show that the crime rate among refugees is 2.04% compared to 5% among Israelis.
There are currently about 50,000 refugees in Israel from Sudan and Eritrea. Most live in poor neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Eilat and elsewhere. Michaeli said, "The resentment felt by the veteran disadvantaged Israeli populations in these poor neighborhoods is inevitable as long as disadvantaged groups are pitted against each other. It is the responsibility of the government to bring both groups into the center of society, no matter if Israeli, Sudanese or Eritrean."
She added, "Turning a blind eye to the fact that refugees are forced to work for wages of $3.50 an hour by denying them access to the labor market not only drags down the market, but contributes to lower living standards for all working Israelis."
Hotline for Migrant Workers and other members of the NIF family including Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Workers' Hotline Kav Laoved, African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), and ASSAF Aid Organization for Asylum and Refugee Seekers are working around the clock to protect the rights of refugees who are entitled to collective protection by international law.
Just last week Hotline for Migrant Workers successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled that the state must provide adequate translation services in asylum interviews. While the situation grows increasingly dangerous and unstable, the NIF family will work hard to ensure that justice will prevail.