LBW

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Israel's unwanted African migrants




For nearly a year Israel has been offering African migrants cash and the chance to go and live in what is supposed to be a safe haven in a third country - but the BBC has spoken to two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane. One was immediately trafficked, the other left to fend for himself without papers.

Adam was 18 when he arrived in Israel in 2011. Attackers had burned down his home in Darfur at the height of the genocide, and he had spent his teenage years in a UN refugee camp in another part of Sudan. With no prospects in the camp and no sign of an end to the conflict in Darfur, he made his way north through Egypt and the lawless Sinai peninsula to Israel.

But Israel - which has approved fewer than 1% of asylum applications since it signed the UN Refugee Convention six decades ago - has not offered asylum to a single person from Sudan. It turned down Adam's application, and last October, when he went to renew the temporary permit allowing him to stay in the country, he was summoned to a detention centre known as Holot, deep in the Negev desert.

This was no surprise for Adam. As most Sudanese and Eritreans in Israel know, it's just a matter of time before they get the call to Holot.

The government calls Holot an "open-stay centre", but it's run by the prison service and rules are strict, including a night-time curfew, which, if broken, will land you in jail.

It's in such an isolated area that there's very little to do and nowhere to go.

I talked to Adam and a group of his friends just outside the gates of Holot, where, at that time, they spent most of their day playing cards or snooker, and eating and cooking in makeshift restaurants.

They told me they took turns to make the hour-long bus ride into the nearest town, Beersheva, where they bought food. The meals served in Holot were insufficient, they said, and contained little meat or protein.

Most of the men there were young - in their 20s or early 30s. Some had been teachers, activists or students in their own countries.

"We are wasting our youth here," Adam says. "If someone lives in Holot, they have no future... You find many people here go crazy."

Since I visited Holot, those makeshift restaurants and game areas have all been demolished on the orders of the government, leaving those inside with even fewer ways to pass the time.

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