Fearful that Israel is becoming overrrun with too many Africans, Israel has refused to grant entry to a group of Eritrean refugees huddled at a new fence in the desert at Israel’s border with Egypt.
The Eritrean group, which includes two women and a teenager, has been there for about a week, bunched together under a blue striped plastic tarp they are using to create some shade. Israel is constructing the 125-mile fence to keep out Africans trying to cross into Israel from Egypt. The Israeli military has been providing the group with food and water.
The Eritreans represent a critical question for the nation of Israel as it grapples with what to do about the Africans and Arabs who have crossed its borders to escape persecution or seek a better quality of life.
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the Eritreans will not be allowed in because it would just encourage more African migrants to make the trip.
“If there were no fence there, and we were not determined (to stop the influx of migrants), then that number would become 1 million people,” he said.
Since most of the Africans are from Sudan and Eritrea, Israel can’t return them under international law because of the poor human rights records of those two countries.
Many of the Africans have settled in Tel Aviv, changing the face of its southern neighborhoods.
Many Israelis fear the continued flow of non-Jewish Africans is eroding the country’s Jewish character, while others seek some measure of humanity in their country’s treatment of the refugees.
According to estimates, one-fifth of Israel’s citizens are Arabs, there are tens of thousands migrant workers overstaying visas, and about 70,000 Africans.
Other Israelis say their country should not send back those fleeing persecution.
“People are running away from killings and a dictatorship. We are obligated to help them,” said Maayan Zak. She and other activists tried to reach the area this week to deliver food.
In a previous standoff with four Eritreans who refused to leave the fence last month, the migrants were allowed in after four days.
According to U.N. official William Tall, Israel should allow the group in and then review their claims to see if they are genuine refugees.
“These people are expressing a fear to be returned,” Tall told the Associated Press. “They (Israel) can’t deny them access to (its) territory.”