RAMALLAH, August 20 (JMCC) - Journalist Mya Guarnieri describes the plight
of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel - and says it represents a wider problem of identity.
Take a walk through south Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park on any day of the year and you'll see dozens of African refugees sleeping on the grass. But they're not here in protest. These men and teenage boys are homeless.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls them infiltrators. The state, however, has reported to the U.N. that about 90 percent of Israel's approximately 30,000 asylum seekers are indeed refugees. Most come from Eritrea -- a country gripped by a brutal dictatorship and fraught with religious persecution -- and war-torn Sudan. Some have escaped genocide in Darfur. Many flee first to Egypt, where they might spend several months or years working. From there, they walk to Israel, making a treacherous journey through the Sinai. A significant number of the refugees are unaccompanied minors -- teenagers who made this trip alone.
Since Israel's founding in 1948, the country has given status to about 200 non-Jewish refugees, mostly Vietnamese boat people and Christian Ethiopians. The recent wave of asylum seekers -- which began with a trickle in the early 2000s and gained momentum around 2006 -- has been subject to what Amnesty International calls a policy of non-policy. While international law forbids Israel from deporting the refugees, the state refuses to grant status or work visas to a tremendous majority.