Refugees and Migration - An international perspective - Democracy


May 28, 2012


The question how to deal with increasing influx of refugees is not only an Israeli challenge, but a European one. The recent study Borderline - EU Border Surveillance Initiatives, An Assessment of the Costs and Its Impact on Fundamental Rights by Dr. Ben Hayes and Mathias Vermeulen analyses the recently adopted policies and strategies by the EU.

The study was discussed at a conference in the Heinrich Böll Headquarters in Berlin Zwischen(t)räume – Transkontinentale Migration nach den Umbrüchen in Nordafrika (German). In the opening statement (German), Barbara Unmüßig, the president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation referred to the Mediterranean and the US-Mexican border as prominent examples for human rights violations. Here is the translation of the press release.



European Border Control: 2 Billion Euros for Fortress Europe

Berlin, May 24th, 2012

A study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation comes to the conclusion that the new European Border Control initiative, if implemented as planned, does not follow the goals presented by the European Commission. Furthermore, they are inappropriate and very costly.

The study “Borderline - EU Border Surveillance Initiatives” posits that euphemistic terms such as “intelligent borders” are hiding the fact that the planned observatory system of the EU is violating Basic Laws, will cost billions of Euros and bring big orders for European arms exporters. 
The study deals with two new EU initiatives for Border Surveillance: The “European Border Control System” (EUROSUR) and “smart borders”, which is, at its core, an installation of an EES (Entry-Exit System).

With the help of drones and high-resolution cameras, satellite systems and offshore sensors FRONTEX will find refugee boats before they enter European waters. What happens to the passengers of these boats is not mentioned in the EU Commission’s bill. Rescue boats are, for example, not included in the data exchange between border patrols.  “The Commission tries to present an image of the rescuer when locating the refugees. But in fact they evade responsibility. Rescuing as a humanitarian act is not a part of the EUROSUR mission. The motto ‘not in Europe, not our problem’ applies here and basic laws like the right to asylum and protection from persecution are ignored,” says Barbara Unmüßig, director of the Heinrich Boell Foundation during the presentation of the study today in Berlin.

Another central conclusion of the study is that the EU Commission has underestimated the costs of EUROSUR. The authors prove that instead of 338 million, the costs should have been approximated at 870 million Euros. “Without a clear cost cap EUROSUR will become a self-service shop for the observation industry – at the cost of asylum seekers and European taxpayers,” says MEP Ska Keller from the Green Party, who contributed to the study. Also the strong linkage between EUROSUR and the European arms industry are, from the Green Party’s perspective, one of the major points of critique. “Obviously the new technological advancement of the European borders creates a new source for business for the European arms and observation industry. This is where the interests of industry and political hardliners, who see migration as a threat for European internal security, meet.”

Not only refugees are the victims of the new observation plans of the Commission. All travelers from countries outside the EU will be registered by the EES with biometric data when they enter the EU in order to find out who overstays their visas in the EU. “The EU Commission and the member states plan one of the biggest data bases of fingerprints in the world” states Ska Keller, “and that, as it seems now, only for statistical purposes”. The study shows, that it would not be permissible by European law to deport travelers that overstay their visa without any further processes. “It cannot be fully comprehended why the member states want to spend 1.1 billion Euros in order to gather the data of 100 million people annually”, Keller continues.

“The plans by the Commission are cynical, inhumane and document an acquiescence to the demands by hardliners who want to undermine Schengen, like Minister for the Interior Friedrich recently demanded. The Commission needs to commit to respecting the basic laws and humanitarian aid. Allocating just a tenth of the budget of FRONTEX to the European Asylum agency contradicts the notion of a humane EU”,   says Barbara Unmüßig.

Borderline - EU Border Surveillance Initiatives. An Assessment of the Costs and Its Impact on Fundamental Rights (2,55 MB, PDF-file, 79 pages)


Israel has a refugee problem – similar to Europe’s

Marianne Zepp

It started with some incidents of rape in the area of the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. Detained and accused for this were illegal African immigrants (for critical analysis of the incidents please see here). And everything culminated on Wednesday evening. Approximately 1000 demonstrators did not stop after the verbal attacks: They attacked Africans, destroyed shops and smashed windows. Alongside this mob, immediate deportation was demanded. Thus, the topic which had already been smoldering under the surface came to public attention: Israel is, like Europe, confronted with more and more refugees from areas of crisis and distress in Africa.

Between 60.000 and 80.000 illegal immigrants live in Israel, most of them from Eritrea and South Sudan. Social tensions are worst at the HaTikva market in South Tel Aviv, a traditionally poor neighborhood with a very high percentage of immigrants. Long-term residents struggle against the stranded Africans in their parks and slums, which formerly used to be apartments in their streets.

Politicians reacted immediately: while the chief of police demanded employment for immigrants in order to decrease the social implications, politicians from the (far) right did not hesitate to voice their opinions: Danny Danon from Likud ticked off the bomb by postulating: “Deportation now!” Eli Yishai, minister for the interior in the Netanyahu government, talks of bugs, Likud MK Miri Regev of cancer, which eats the Israel society. “Immigrants” and “refugees” became “infiltrators”.

The national-ethnic citizenship has increasingly been preferred over the understanding of the liberal state which was proclaimed by the declaration of the foundation of the Jewish state. The emphasis on the Jewish Character of the state has narrowed down to the ethnic and religious affiliation, that enable citizenship and with that to social and political rights. The consequences are mechanisms of exclusion and in more extremist form racist attacks as described above. Nevertheless the Jerusalem Post, in its weekend edition pointed out that the state should strive to preserve a Jewish majority and the character of the Jewish state but the Jewish state should also for historical reasons side with the persecutees and has a special obligation to protect them.

This is how the question of how to deal with refugees became a question of the identity of the Israeli state. Israel has, - in its self-conception as a liberal state by adopting western values -, signed the refugee convention of the United Nations 1967. Some commentators regard this as a problem.

Many commentators are pointing to the unimaginable persecution that the refugees from Eritrea and Sudan endured before coming to Israel. The Bedouin tribes from Sinai and the Negev play an infamous role: They have turned the trafficking of refugees into a lucrative venture, which does not care about loss of human lives.

Human Rights organizations, experts in constitutional law and Foreign- and realist politicians protest. They also take into account the southern peripheries of the country: thus, MK of the Labor Party Herzog suggests bilateral agreements with Eritrea, to grant the refugees a temporary residency status.

Israel’s strategic location is much more endangered than that of Europe; it is not separated from Africa through the Mediterranean. Also the liberal Europe has no adequate answer for the distress at its borders and has made the right of refugees for protection of life and bodily harm a farce. Calamity of refugees has become a daily routine. The humans that risk their life in the Mediterranean are the disgrace of today’s Europe. The voices in Israel that look for agreeable solutions - in contrast to their government - are getting louder.


South Tel Aviv Stories: ‘I left Sudan due to war and I’m still in a war’

Mia Guarnieri

Sudanese refugee Abraham Alu saw his parents killed by militiamen when he was just seven years old. He discusses life in Israel and how he ended up here. The latest installment of the South Tel Aviv Stories.

Abraham Alu, a 35-year-old refugee from what is now South Sudan, was on his way to the store last Wednesday night when an anti-African protest in south Tel Aviv turned violent. Jewish Israelis chased and beat African asylum seekers, broke the windows of a car full of African men, and smashed storefronts of African-owned stores in south Tel Aviv.

Alu, who was headed out to buy food, almost ran into a mob. But police pointed to the group headed in his direction and said, “Run, they’ll murder you! Run!” Alu turned around and headed back to the tiny, one-room apartment he shares with 11 other South Sudanese men.

Approximately 60,000 African asylum seekers currently live in Israel. While Sudanese and Eritreans are protected from deportation, Israel does not issue them work visas. The refugees scrabble together a living by working odd jobs. Many live in south Tel Aviv, a historically poor area of the city, where rent is cheap.

On a bright Sunday morning just days after the race riots, Alu stands on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in south Tel Aviv. Many of the stores and restaurants on the strip are owned by or cater to Southeast Asian migrant workers or Africans. Both Israeli and foreign vendors line the edge of the cobblestone walkway, their wares spread out on sheets.

Alu, a tall man with broad shoulders, sells plastic boots. He stands behind them, as though he’s trying to put a barrier between himself and the world. “I feel afraid even right now,” he says, adding that he faces constant harassment from Jewish Israeli residents of the neighborhood.

“They come here and [say], ‘What are you doing here? This is our country, go home; go back to [Sudan].’”

“I left [South] Sudan when I was small because of the war and here, right now, I’m still in a war,” Alu says.

When Alu was seven years old, he saw both his mother and father murdered by militiamen. He fled his village alone. To this day, Alu does not know what happened to his brothers. Twenty-eight years later, he continues to search for his brothers by asking other refugees if they have met them or heard anything about them.

Alu eventually ended up in Egypt, where he worked odd jobs to survive. In Cairo, he joined a sit-in outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protest the conditions African asylum seekers face in Egypt. The 3000 demonstrators, who camped out for three months in late 2005, also asked for the UNHCR to help them move to other countries.

On December 30, 2005, approximately 4000 Egyptian policemen stormed the protest camp. They fired water cannons into the crowd, which included women and children, and beat demonstrators with batons. More than 20 Africans were killed, including a four-year-old girl. The Egyptian Interior Ministry said a stampede was to blame for the deaths, though media reports cast doubt on that claim.

Alu fled for Israel. Because he’d heard that the journey through Sinai was dangerous, he left his wife, two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and infant son behind. He would send for them once he was settled somewhere and the situation was stable.

After he crossed into Israel in early 2006, Alu was held in prison for a year. He has been living in south Tel Aviv since he was released.

In the wake of last week’s violence, Alu says, “We have to move from [Israel]… but there’s nowhere to go.”

While Alu wants to go home and help build South Sudan, which has been independent for less than a year, he doesn’t feel that it is safe to return.
A shopper stops and picks up a pair of black work boots. He asks, in Arabic, how much the shoes cost and Alu answers, “Eighty shekel.” The man clucks his tongue and says he can give Alu 70. Alu explains that he buys them for 70 a pair and only makes a 10 NIS profit. As the potential buyer—a young man with short dreadlocks—starts to leave, Alu calls after him. “I’ll give them to you for 75.” The man walks on.

A shopper stops and picks up a pair of black work boots. He asks, in Arabic, how much the shoes cost and Alu answers, “Eighty shekel.” The man clucks his tongue and says he can give Alu 70. Alu explains that he buys them for 70 a pair and only makes a 10 NIS profit. As the potential buyer—a young man with short dreadlocks—starts to leave, Alu calls after him. “I’ll give them to you for 75.” The man walks on.

Alu gestures to the shoes. “Where is my future? Where is my future? This is my future?”

“I want to be somebody who will do something in the new country [of South Sudan]. But when I go back, I [will] have no money, no education, no nothing. Just me and myself, me and the few clothes I will put in a plastic bag.”

Asylum seekers, Alu adds, “don’t want to be rich. No, we are [a humble] people. We just want something to eat, we want to sleep well, to feel secure—that’s it.”

When Alu is scared, he imagines his home in South Sudan, despite the fact that he hasn’t seen it in almost three decades. He smiles for the first time in the half an hour we’ve spent together. “I’ll go and sit under my tree there.”

His father was a farmer, Alu explains, and the family had banana and mango trees. There was one particular mango tree that Alu loved. “Yeah, I remember my tree. I think about it a lot.”

First appeared on on Wednesday, May 30, 2012



Lisa Hücking

Nation, state and (illegal) immigration in Israel

A friend told me about a movie, it dealt with an American-English couple who fell in love and due to immigration conditions and working permits they married hastily, so that they could be together. In the end, they broke up because of all the tensions coming with an early marriage. I asked her about the title, and she said: “It was probably something like ‘Love with obstacles’, but it should have been ‘Love in times of the nation state’”. The nation-state is indeed, source of many issues.

Nation and State

The terms nation and state are often used as synonyms, but in fact they aren’t. Nations do not have borders, only states do. Therefore, nation states are territories for one nation.

Pure nation-states are, like many models, idealistic and unrealistic. States are organizational units with physical borders; nations are (cf. Anderson) communities that are connected by memory and imagination, an imagined community.  The Jews are maybe one of the best examples: A Nation that, without a territory, feels connected and shares a common memory. Here in Israel, the imagined community has a territory, soil, land and a state.

Strictly, Israel is not a homogenous nation-state. It is mostly described as an ethnic-religious state, which is also home to a variety of minorities, like for example the Arab minority which compromises one fifth of the Israeli population. Also Germany is not a nation-state. Germany, in the many forms it existed, was always a federal state and home to many nations within its borders.


What is the nation-state’s approach towards immigrants? In general, one distinguishes between jus soli (right of soil) and jus sanguini (right of blood). In Israel, the latter is the law which is primarily applied. The prototype for jus soli is found in the USA, where everybody who is born there receives American citizenship. Jus sanguini is meant to preserve the nation-state and limit migration from people that are not part of the nation. Germany has, under the red-green coalition government, tried to distance itself from jus sanguini and now tries to adapt to the new reality of an immigrant state.

Israel and Germany have been multinational states for a long time, but cling to their national community through their immigration laws. This state of mind has been present in Germany for a long time, and was also highly linked to the extermination of six million Jews during World War II. A homogenous nation-state was also actively pursued during the foundation of the Israeli state. In the events of the ‘nakba’ (Arabic for catastrophe), thousands of Palestinians were displaced to create space for a Jewish nation-state.

Homogeneity and self-determination for nations seems to be a legitimate request and nobody wants to oppose a community from living together peacefully and according to their own rules. Thus, Israel allows every Jew to immigrate (to make aliyah). As long as you can prove your Jewish faith with a certificate from a rabbi and are willing to reside for in Israel two years, you are entitled to a range of benefits, such as your airplane ticket, a Hebrew class and some seed money (for a full list of aliyah benefits please click here).

Other migrants are repeatedly under attack. The Israeli minister for the interior has publicly called for a providing a grant for those African immigrants (refugees, asylum seekers, working migrants, illegal migrants) that return to their home country. He also demanded that the police should be supported in raiding the cities for illegal immigrants in the known neighborhoods like south Tel Aviv. Apart from the fact that these people fill the void of workers left by the Palestinians, the policy towards Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants differs distinctively.

Not as commonly believed, this discrimination does officially not persist because of skin color. There are currently almost 120.000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel, who are actively integrated by government policies. They receive financial benefits but come from similar economic backgrounds as the African refugees.

So in Israel, an open discrimination of religion persists, which has nothing to do with the ‘common constructed’ discrimination of skin color as in other parts of the world. It is dramatic, that the statements made by the minister of the interior apparently legitimize direct discrimination and even violence. This of course concerns all people that fulfill the stereotypes of ‘illegal African immigrant’. Whether the person is a refugee, an asylum seeker, a working migrant or an illegal immigrant is not immediately clear in the neighborhoods concerned.

The NGO Hotline for migrant workers was harassed and threatened multiple time and was probably only spared because its location is unknown. Furthermore, houses and a kindergarten were attacked with Molotov cocktails. These attacks culminated on Wednesday, the 23rd of May, when a demonstration (yes, an open demonstration) turned into an angry mob and destroyed shops of refugees, smashed car windows and even assaulted reporters who were covering the protests. This story touched me the most: Israeli and international volunteers from a kindergarten by the NGO African Refugee Development Center brought the children home and gave the parents a note, that they should not leave their houses, so that they would be safe. These are only some of the attacks that have made the headlines in the last couple of weeks. The irony, that the neighborhood HaTikva means ‘hope’ and is also the title of the Israeli national anthem, which has also recently been discussed, will not be of attention here… 

Democracy and Nation

These blood-and-nation-thoughts are still very present in our heads, but also in our laws. Most people can, I think, rationally agree that they are not the most important foundations of a state but that democracy and human rights are: "We have to maintain the state's democratic nature, but also its Jewish nature" (Einwanderungsminister, Zeev Boim, 2006).

This credo, which is still as valid as it has been 6 years ago, leads to a slippery slope of the Israeli government. Israel has the UN convention on refugees, which makes it almost impossible to deport refugees to unsafe home countries or so-called transit countries. Even though the minister of the interior thinks he can justify his demands by offloading the responsibilities of dealing with refugees on the United Nations ("I'm not responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan, the UN is.”; Haaretz) you don’t have to be a human rights lawyer to know that this does not justify the deportation of refugees and/or asylum seekers. Therefore, Israel does not process the asylum applications and sparks the public debates with statics on crime and health warnings. This leaves those concerned in a dubious state, which does not bring rights or duties. 


Why can a state not step back from the imagination of the nation-state? Maybe pragmatism is not enough to get the citizens to pay taxes, serve in the army or simply to comply with the law. Romantic-nationalistic memory places are what constitute (perceived) nation-states. Certain events or real locations are collectively remembered and create a sense of community. A good example for that is in Israel YomHazikaron, the day of the fallen soldiers. On that day the whole country stands still when sirens are heard all over the country. These memory places are of course selected as fits. If the Israelis had chosen other events, there would probably not be as much sense of community. For example unexplained deaths or the treatment of peaceful demonstrators. This is collectively forgotten. For self-preservation. Positive or negative, the collective remembering is practiced every day.

Post-nationalism attacks the innermost of our identity. Who am I and what am I doing in my country if I can’t justify it with my national identity?     

But is this feeling necessary? As soon as nationalism can be separated from territory, a state would be an organizational unit, governed by democracy and the nation; the imagined community can exist without borders, inside but also across the borders of the state. The religious community is a private one, and that secularism is necessary for a democracy is commonly accepted. When can we do this with our national identity? When can we feel as whatever nation we like and can live it independently from our state, as the Jews have managed for centuries to maintain their traditions and customs?

This does not mean that the problems of the immigrants in Israel, be they legal, illegal, refugee or asylum seeker, should not be addressed by the government. This is where the pressure, which is right now condensed in South Tel Aviv, needs to be released. And not to the politicians that are trying to get the votes but the government, which should do more than simply building a fence in the desert…