Tel Aviv, Israel – South Tel Aviv’s Neve Shaanan Street, dubbed by many Israelis as “little Africa”, is deserted. This once-bustling area is riddled with panic as immigration officers ferret out African migrants and asylum seekers to detain and consequently deport them. One South Sudanese woman who lives in an apartment in the neighbourhood is terrified to leave home to even collect her daughter from nursery. Her neighbour was arrested the previous night and she is in a panic over what to do.
Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority recently arrested scores of African migrants, officials have said. The majority of those imprisoned are South Sudanese nationals while the others are migrants from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The crackdown, known as “Operation Going Home”, comes in the wake of a court decision last week to expel all South Sudanese migrants.
Isaac, a South Sudanese asylum seeker, was detained on Sunday by Israeli authorities. He desperately contacted the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) based in Tel Aviv from Saharonim detention centre to try to understand his legal status. However, the ARDC and similar relief organisations feel helpless in this situation. These aid organisations recently lost a petition in court against the collective deportations of asylum seekers from South Sudan.
“It is a frustrating job, because we know we are not going to succeed sometimes, and we are trying to help them [the asylum seekers],” Yael Aberman, the legal project manager at ARDC, said.
‘Scared to go home’
The Israeli government is determined to reverse the flow of the estimated 60,000 African migrants living in the country, starting with those from South Sudan. Israel recognises South Sudan as an independent state and maintains that it is no longer life-threatening for them to return. This week’s arrests are the first step by Israel’s interior ministry to detain, deport, and prevent illegal migrants and asylum seekers from entering or staying in the country. According to the government, there are 1,500 South Sudanese in Israel, yet relief organisations say there are no more than 700.
On June 17, the first plane will take off for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, with about 200 migrants on board.