Israel plans to begin deporting tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers within weeks. Activists hope the action will raise awareness of what awaits them.
By Oren Ziv
A group of Eritrean asylum seekers and Israeli refugee advocates staged a mock slave auction outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, while a conference on government plans to begin mass deportations of asylum seekers took place inside Wednesday morning.
Around 10 asylum seekers stood on make-shift auction blocks made of milk crates, while an auctioneer called out, “get your slaves, slaves for half price,” over a megaphone. A single member of Knesset, Dov Khenin, came outside to support the asylum seekers, and called Israel’s refugee policy inhumane and unacceptable.
Israeli officials have stated that starting in a matter of weeks, tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel will face a stark choice: indefinite imprisonment or agree to be sent to Rwanda or Uganda. Asylum seekers who have left Israel for the two countries in recent years have not received any legal status there, and faced dangerous conditions and choices, including heading toward Europe through Libya, where human trafficking and other types of violence is a constant danger.
Vowing to choose prison over deportation, Awad, one of the Eritrean asylum seekers who took part in the protest action as a would-be slave on the auction block, appealed to Israelis to listen and learn. “Before you deport us let’s sit and talk about our problem. Learn about what the problems are in Eritrea,” said Awad, who asked not to use his last name. “We are refugees, not infiltrators, not work migrants — we are refugees. We will stay here, in prison.”
Human rights and refugee advocacy organizations in Israel and abroad have condemned the Israeli government’s plan and pledged to fight the deportations.
“The asylum seekers that are deported from Israel end up in Libya — end up being sold. This is not just an idea, this is what happens to them actually once they are deported from Israel,” said Sigal Avivi, an Israeli refugee rights activist who helped organize the action outside the Knesset on Wednesday. “Their lives are in danger. We came today to the Knesset to reinforce that message.”
A similar mock slave auction was held outside Tel Aviv’s main shopping mall, Dizengoff Center, a few weeks earlier.