Not surprisingly my first item of news today comes from Ed O’Loughlin with his article from The Age entitled ‘Israel starts driving refugees from Darfur horror back into Egypt’. There are a few issues that arise from this article. The first is the highly provocative title, which The Age online has even changed to ‘Israel turns away Darfur refugees’, the differences in the language is subtle but important.
The second issue is the fact that The Age has remained silent for months now about the plight of Darfur refugees and the steady flow of refugees coming into Israel over a significant amount of time. The Age has remained silent on the treatment of these refugees in Egypt, which is the reason that they have been continuing on into Israel. The Age remained silent when it was reported on 2 August that ‘Egyptians killed 4 Sudanese on border’. In fact, the first mention of the issue came in today’s article when O’Loughlin states, ‘earlier this month, an Israeli television channel said it had obtained footage shot by Israeli border guards of two Sudanese refugees being beaten to death by Egyptian border guards. The channel said it would not air the footage so as to avoid a diplomatic row with Egypt’. It is as if O’Loughlin is sceptical about the event, with no real acknowledgement that it happened, or that it was not the first time Sudanese refugees had been met with such brutality in Egypt and other countries.
O’Loughlin’s article does raise some interesting points about the issue of refugees, though the issue is far more complex than the article addresses. Today’s Australian shed’s more light on the issue with an article entitled ‘Israel refuses sanctuary to new Darfur refugees.’ Apart from going into far more detail about the refugee debate within Israel, the article also mentions the precedent that was set by Israel in 1977 in regards to refugees when Menachem Begin offered asylum to nearly 400 Vietnamese boat people.
As a part of the international community, every country should have an obligation to accept genuine asylum seekers. Each country should have a clear plan for accepting asylum seekers, as Israel did in the 70s with the Vietnamese boat people and in the early 90s with refugees from the Balkans.
Nevertheless the refugee issue is a lot more complex, especially in relation to Africa. One needs to differentiate between Israel’s role in the world in accepting asylum seekers, and protecting her own borders, as the Europeans and Americans do, against economic migrants, who come from the horn of Africa (like Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) in search of a better economic life – knowing that Israel is the only democracy with a vibrant economy in a region of despots and economic hardship. Up until now, Israel has not made this differentiation, and over 2,000 refugees have filtered into Israel. 500 of these have been declared as are genuine asylum seekers from Darfur. These refugees who have already entered the country have been permitted to stay, and are being absorbed all over the country, including the Golan Heights and the Negev, as well as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Projects have been adopted all over the country to assist these asylum seekers, including a project that is being carried out in Arad by volunteers with the support of the World Labor Zionist Movement, and some financial backing from Ameinu Australia, with almost 40 Darfurian child asylum seekers. A video of
another project can be viewed here: http://www.israelupclose.org/.
Just as a point of comparison, Australia has taken in roughly the same amount of Darfurian asylum seekers – Israel can fit three times just into Tasmania and has a significantly smaller population.
It is really important that letters are written to the newspapers to make sure that the Australian public understands the complexities of this issue.