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Diasporia News of Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Source: AP

Israeli Police Detain African Migrants

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli police arrested about 200 African migrants Monday, a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered a crackdown on the growing problem of illegal immigration, officials said.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the migrants, mostly Sudanese who entered through the porous border with Egypt, were arrested in a raid near Tel Aviv's old bus station, where many live. Rosenfeld said the arrests would continue this week.

The dilapidated buildings that shelter migrants in southern Tel Aviv were nearly empty after the raid as people tried to avoid arrest. They left hundreds of barren mattresses side-by-side in smelly underground dwellings.

Solomon Mangstie-Dayan, a 40-year-old migrant from Ethiopia who crossed into Israel nine days ago, said police officers raided his shelter, seizing fellow African migrants and hurrying them onto three buses. He said he was spared only because of the cries of his 3-year-old daughter, Sunight.

Olmert on Sunday ordered security officials to tighten supervision of the Egyptian border and directed officials to expedite the processing of those seeking asylum, to decide which were just seeking work and could be deported.

Africans have been sneaking into Israel in increasing numbers over the past year. More than 7,000 have entered the country illegally through Egypt in just over a year, including more than 2,000 so far in 2008, said Michael Bavly, a representative in Israel of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Israeli government statistics estimate about 100,000 legal foreign workers in the country. At least 100,000 others, many from Africa, work in Israel without permits, according to experts.

Foreign workers flock to Israel because the higher wages allow them to send relatively large amounts of money back home to their families. Refugees seeking asylum from wars or persecution see Israel as a welcoming, Westernized country.

Many Israelis feel an obligation to help refugees because of the centuries of persecution Jews endured before they created their own state.

Most migrants are from Sudan, including southern Sudan, where a 22-year conflict left 2.5 million people dead, and Darfur, where a rebellion has cost more than 200,000 civilian lives and made 2.5 million homeless. Others have fled Eritrea and forced military conscription there.

This year, Israel granted temporary residency status to 600 refugees from Darfur. It also recognized about 2,000 migrants from Eritrea whose lives would be endangered if sent home.

But the nation plans to deport another 4,500, many of whom came from countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.

Their route to Israel is often treacherous. Egyptian border police on Monday shot and wounded a Sudanese and a man from Ivory Coast in separate incidents as they tried to cross into Israel. On Sunday, Egyptian forces shot and killed an African woman who was trying to cross the border into Israel, a medical official said.

A spokeswoman for Israel's Interior Ministry said those arrested Monday who have work permits would be released. Those whose refugee status is being reviewed by the U.N. would be granted a limited stay, and the others would be deported.

Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers in Tel Aviv, who represents the migrants, said authorities were shipping some of the arrested migrants to a prison in southern Israel.

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