African immigrants often sleep rough in Levinksky Park, Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of the African Refugee Development Centre).
First it was illegal South Sudanese immigrants
, now it’s illegal Ivorian immigrants who are facing the threat of deportation from Israel. As part of the government’s plan to eventually repatriate all illegal African immigrants, the Minister of the Interior announced
on June 28 that Ivorians living unlawfully in Israel had just over two weeks to leave the country. Our Observer, an Ivorian immigrant, told us about his return from Tel Aviv to Abidjan.
Police began arresting Ivorians still in Israel on July 17, the day after the government’s deadline for departure for the 2,000 nationals from Ivory Coast it claims had been living in Israel illegally. (This figure is contested by organisations which work with immigrants as well the Ivorian embassy; they estimate that the number is actually between 500 and 800.) On the night of July 17, a group of around 20 Ivorians was arrested
in Tel Aviv. Yael Aberdam, who works as a project manger for the African Refugee Development Centre
, an aid organisation based in Tel Aviv, said that Ivorians were being “hunted down” by the police: “Last week, there were identity checks being carried out on every street corner. Lots of people have told us that they have been forced to go into hiding.”
In 2004, the United Nations declared that Ivory Coast was a “crisis state” and Israel offered to welcome refugees. They began to trickle into the country. Then, in 2010, a wave of Ivorians fled Ivory Coast to escape the violence that broke out following the disputed election between incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and the apparent winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara. But when Ouattara was officially invested as president, Israel decided to end group protection for Ivory Coast citizens. The authorities felt that peace had returned to Ivory Coast and it was therefore safe enough for people to go home.
Having group protection meant that Ivorian immigrants who were waiting to have their asylum claims examined were granted a temporary residency permit, known as a “visa 2A5”. This residency permit had to be renewed every three months, and the holder of the permit was not allowed receive welfare benefits or to work, although many employers ignored this ban. But in February, the authorities stopped renewing these visas.
Photo courtesy of the African Refugee Development Centre.