Where's the Coverage? Another Double Standard for Israel on Refugees
There are an estimated 45,000-60,000 people currently living in Israel illegally, mostly from Eritrea and South Sudan. Some of them would be considered refugees by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):
The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing UNHCR spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
Many others would not be considered refugees, but instead migrants:
Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.
Only refugees have protected status under international law and the preferred outcome for them is to be repatriated. According to the UNHCR Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, "The UN General Assembly (GA) has repeatedly affirmed UNHCR’s function of promoting/facilitating the voluntary repatriation of refugees."
So, when Israel undertakes a program to voluntarily repatriate several hundred South Sudanese refugees, there should be no hue and cry, right? Wrong.
A Washington Post blog on the subject used words like "deportation" and "expulsion". And, of course, Isabel Kershner couldn’t resist a Holocaust reference in her New York Times article:
But the government clampdown is also ripping at Israel’s soul. For some, the connotations of roundups and the prospect of mass detentions cut too close to the bone."I feel I am in a movie in Germany, circa 1933 or 1936," said Orly Feldheim, 46, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, as she doled out food last week to a long line of immigrants...
Of course, the usual suspects in the anti-Israel community could not help but pile on. Moira Levy, who claims to be a South African journalist, wrote a letter to the Cape Times declaring she will cut herself off from being a Jew because of Israel’s "violent racial repression." In response, Desmond Tutu wrote a letter to Levy pleading:
Please do not blame your faith for the policies of the people who have political power in the State of Israel.When members of our family behaved wrongly, we did not turn our backs on them, but tried to convince them to steer a fairer course.
What would that "fairer course" be here? Would it be the course taken in the case of Liberian refugees being repatriated from Gambia? Angolan refugees being repatriated from Namibia? Angolan refugees being repatriated from Zambia? Congolese refugees being repatriated from Burundi? Ivorian refugees being repatriated from Liberia? What about the refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo being repatriated from the Republic of Congo?
Are these "fairer"? Not really. In all of the above cases the world community through the UNHCR, funded in large part by the United States, picks up the tab. But in Israel's case, the people of Israel are paying -- adults reportedly received $1,300 each and children $650 each. In the "fairer" non-Israeli cases, repatriated refugees received much less, only a few hundred dollars each. Fairer?
However, the main thing that differentiates the repatriation of refugees from other countries from the repatriation of refugees from Israel is that there's no outrage about it. There's no uproar and there's certainly very little media attention. Furthermore, regarding the fact that economic migrants have no legal status, have you heard about that in the press? Have you read that repatriation of refugees -- including from Israel -- is legal, fair, and even encouraged by the world community? No? Where's the fairness? Where's the journalistic integrity? Where's the coverage?