South Africa, Like Israel, Should Do Some Deep Soul Searching

The solutions are not simple, and few countries offer repatriation with a small financial stipend as Israel does.

27/02/2018 13:04 SAST | Updated 27/02/2018 13:04 SAST
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Mia Swart's blog, "Israel's Deportation Of African Refugees 'Racism Of The Worst Kind'" refers.

Nearly every country in the world is facing difficulties due to the influx of refugees or migrants from countries where there is conflict or declining economic opportunities. For many, Israel – with its thriving albeit flawed democracy and freedom – is a magnet for those seeking better opportunity.

There is almost a pathological obsession with Israel in the South African media that borders dangerously on hatred. Not a day goes by without some kind of coverage, some of it not even remotely true.

Right now, nearly 300 civilians have been killed in the Ghouta region of Syria, many of them children, and this barely registers. But one mention of Israel and one is sure to see a sensationalistic and outrageous headline.

At the outset, the above-mentioned headline would anger South Africans, and rightly so. What news outlets fail to grasp is the facts and nuances of the situation in Israel, which while imperfect, is not alone in facing similar crises.

The author invokes the "legacy of the Holocaust", which apart from being a cheap shot also negates South Africa's own history of gross human rights abuse and racial discrimination.

It is profoundly hypocritical that South Africa, home to the Lindela Repatriation Centre, which the SA Human Rights Commission, Medecins Sans Frontieres and other international human rights organisations have criticised for the appalling conditions under which African migrants whose numbers dwarf those in Israel are kept, points a finger at the Jewish state.

Read: The Dire Consequences Of U.S. Funding Cuts To Palestinians

It is a profoundly difficult situation for Israel, and many have taken to the streets, including African migrants, to protest. This is democracy in action, but let's also examine the hard facts:

1) Israel is a magnet because of its freedom and economic prosperity. This became especially true after European countries began enforcing harsh laws against illegal immigration from Africa.

2) Unlike refugees who are fleeing war or persecution, economic migrants leave their countries in search of better work opportunities. "Refugee" is a legal status that is given to an individual, on a case by case basis. A person qualifies as a refugee based on international laws, conventions and treaties that Israel has signed and abides by.

3) The majority of the estimated 54,000 African migrants are from Eritrea (34,000); 13,500 are from Sudan and South Sudan; 800 are from Somalia; and thousands of others are from the Ivory Coast, the Congo and other countries – compared to the over 250,000 in South Africa.

4) Israel has treated African migrants humanely, as opposed to South Africa, where many have been killed, tortured – and who can forget the man from Mozambique, who was set alight in the street?

5) Many have expressed in an interview a sense of relief at being in Israel, where they are physically secure, and face no police harassment.

This issue has many in Israel doing deep soul searching.

6) Many have found work, and some have been able to open their own small businesses, and their children are being educated in Israeli schools.

7) Israeli human rights groups and activists assist African migrants and work to protect their rights. These migrants did not attempt to settle in any other Middle Eastern country. Instead, they paid large sums and risked life-threatening dangers to reach Israel. They had to trek across the Sinai Desert, risk being shot by Egyptian police, and avoid the danger of rape, murder, torture, and extortion by Bedouin smugglers.

The solutions are not simple, and few countries offer repatriation with a small financial stipend as Israel does. This issue has many in Israel doing deep soul searching. Perhaps it is time for South Africa to do the same.