The Israeli government began its controversial plan to round up and deport thousands of African immigrants this week. According to Reuters, this move is to ensure the safety of the “character” of Jewish state and stem the tide of immigration from neighboring African nations.

As with most developed countries, illegal immigration is both a help and a hindrance to Israel. People from neighboring nations come to the country seeking jobs and a better life, but for many in Israel, African immigrants are not wanted. Over the weekend, the government began picking up groups of African migrants and plans to house them in camps until they are repatriated to their home countries.

Reuters reports:

Israel Radio reported that dozens of Africans, mainly from South Sudan, had already been detained in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, including mothers and children. 

The goal is to repatriate all the estimated 60,000 African migrants, whose growing numbers are seen by many Israelis as a law and order issue and even a threat to the long-term viability of the Jewish state.

Illegal migration, and the pool of cheap labor it provides, is a common headache for developed economies. Israel is grappling with its own special ghosts as it tackles the problem. 

For some in Israel, built by immigrants and refugees, internment and deportation are bad solutions that may damage the international image of the country needlessly. 

Many of the African immigrants fled to Israel after conflicts ripped their countries. A large contingent of the population (now nearing approximately 60,000 Africans in a nation of nearly 8 million people) came from Sudan. Over the weekend a group of 500 Sudanese men held protests in Tel Aviv demonstrating against the controversial deportation policies.

Although many in Israel see the African immigrants as a “cancer” and think they are simply in the country to be criminals (and several Africans have been attacked), the protesters insisted they are just refugees seeking better life.

As they shouted, “We are refugees, not criminals” at the demonstration, one man explained how many African immigrants in Israel are treated.

“We’re being called a cancer and an AIDs virus on the Israeli people, by politicians in the Knesset,” said protest organizer Jacob Berri.

While many Israeli human rights activists disagree with the deportation policy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have called the immigrants “infiltrators” (a term also used for Palestinian militants) who are “swamping” the country and threatening “the character of the country”.  Additionally, according to a poll 52-percent of Israelis see the Africans as a “cancer” and one man at an anti-immigration rally even suggested they should “burn them out [and] put poison in their food.”

To counteract what he sees as an infiltration, Netanyahu says his county will continue building a fence to protect the borders and deport those in the country illegally.

But for many of the African immigrants, things are not so simple. They have been living in Israel for several years and are seeking refugee status from the UN. Many are willing to leave the country, but only if they are able to move to other welcoming countries through a resettlement program. Israel is also providing grants of 1000-euros for those who voluntarily deport themselves.

Israel is expected to begin deporting African migrants next week.

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