The quietly ongoing case of Israel’s unwanted African migrants who’re now being pushed out against their will is not only a mockery of African governments but also an indicator of how post-independence Africa has largely failed its people.
Around 2006 at the height of the violence in Darfur and Eritrea, thousands of civilians started to flee to Israel through its south eastern neigbour Egypt to seek asylum.
Today, Israel is stuck with over 50,000 of those African migrants and it has made it clear they’re ‘unwanted infiltrators’ who must return to where they came from. And in December last year, Israel passed a controversial law that allows authorities to hold migrants at detention centres for up to one year without trial sparking off a spate of protests.
But the protests have not thwarted Israel’s determination to rid itself of the ‘infiltrators’ whom it accuses of threatening the country’s cultural purity as well as committing crimes and taking jobs meant for local Israelites.
Since the controversial law was passed, international humanitarian groups estimate that thousands of African migrants including women and children are being incarcerated at the detention centre located in Negev desert in southern Israel near the border with Egypt.
The harsh conditions at the centre is reportedly paying off for Israel as many detainees are now volunteering to leave the country for any other place willing to host them. It’s a choice between detention in the desert and leaving. Earlier this week, it was reported that Uganda has agreed to a deal with Israel to receive thousands of these stranded migrants in exchange for military aid and money though David Apollo Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees denies saying; “No such agreement is in place.”
But Israeli interior minister Gideon Sa’ar has been quoted reportedly saying Israel would soon start deporting migrants to Uganda adding that there are efforts of reaching similar arrangements with several other unnamed countries.
Israel is reportedly offering weapons; military training and money to countries that agree to receive its ‘African burden.’ Last month, the UN Refugee Agency accused the Israeli government of following a policy that creates fear and chaos among asylum seekers and warned that putting asylum seekers under pressure to return home without first considering why they had fled, could amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
But what does this say about African countries? Most post-colonial African governments have let down their countries and it partly explains why many continue to flee abroad and risk living like second rate citizens.
Outside the continent, Africa continues to be identified by war, poverty and disease factors that see thousands migrating to Europe every year in search of new hopes. The European council on foreign relations estimates that there were over one million migrants to Europe and 299,000 asylum applications in 2006 alone underlining the rate at which Africans are exiting their continent. Two thirds of migrants originate from North Africa with countries like Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia taking the lead but lately, West Africa has also contributed a huge number of migrants from especially Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.
The irony is, most of these countries are rich with oil and other natural resources yet governments there have failed to put those resources to proper management as to benefit the citizens socially and economically. Thousands of North Africans have died in the past as they try to make it to Italy. Those who make it to Europe end up detained for illegal entry or join criminal gangs for lack of proper employment; meanwhile skilled ones end up as casual labourers even when Africa needs their skills.
The mockery that this leads to has been suffered by most Africans who have visited these western countries and it’s a challenge that squarely falls on current and future governments to redeem the continent and give Africans a reason to stay home. War as a solution to political disagreements has to stop in favour of diplomacy and dialogue. Rwanda’s case has shown that countries can actually rebuild from conflicts and that if given peace and stability, the people can actually strive to beat poverty, disease and ignorance; it’s a free experience countries like Central African Republic, South Sudan and DRC can always learn from.
From not deep in Rwanda’s history, you may remember how former President Habyarimana infamously said that Rwanda was too small for Rwandan Tutsi exiles who were suffering in refugee camps to return; today, with good leadership, Rwanda’s population is above 10million yet citizens are living in harmony. It’s obviously a case of the quality of governance that African countries need to improve in order to give Africans a reason to stay home and exploit local opportunities.
Kenneth Agutamba is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China.