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Freedom for African Refugees in Israel : Toronto solidarity protest

by Kevin Konnyu

by Kevin Konnyu
On Wednesday January 22 about two dozen people braved the -30 degree Celsius windchill to protest outside the Israeli consulate at 180 Bloor St. W. in solidarity with African asylum seekers in Israel as part of an international day of action.  Aaron Berhane, an Eritrean-Canadian journalist, detailed the conditions in Eritrea and Eritrean's treatment in Israel.  Berhane also listed the demands of the African Asylum Seeker Community in Israel to the government (see below).  
Noa Shaindlinger, an Israeli anti-apartheid activist based in Toronto, relayed her eyewitness account from the summer of 2012 of the race riots in Tel Aviv that started after right-wing members of the Knesset addressed a protest against African asylum seekers and refugees.  Shaindlinger placed the riot in the context of a larger pattern of inciting and encouraging impoverished and marginalized sectors of the Jewish population into violence and hatred of the "other", either Palestinians or asylum seekers.  In both cases, Shaindlinger says, the ""other" is called "infiltrator".
Syed Hussan from Toronto's No One Is Illegal gave a passionate speech saying "we believe in the freedom of movement of people.  We insist that when migrants rise anywhere in the world, we will be there to support them.  And for the last two weeks we have seen pictures and videos of over 50,000 African refugees take to the streets of Israel and we are proud, we are inspired, and we are here in solidarity".  Hussan went on to draw parallels between Israel and Canada's treatment of both indigenous and migrant peoples.  
After the rally, which briefly occupied Bloor St. in the middle of rush-hour, an affinity group of self-described Jewish youth held a debrief in a nearby coffee shop.  The group read from a collection of versus from the Torah that pertained to refugees and asylum seekers and discussed how to communicate via the Jewish faith the wrongness of the Israeli state's position.  They had developed a media release for the event which stated "As Jews and citizens of the world, we are here today to condemn the Israeli government's treatment of thousands of African asylum seekers living within its borders.  Not only are Israel's actions against these asylum seekers morally abhorrent, they are in clear violations of international law, and undermine the Jewish values upon which the state was created."  The media release ended with a quote from Exodus "And a stranger thou shalt not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt".
The list of demands to the government of Israel:
1. Cancel the new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law; stop all arrests; and release all asylum seekers and refugees from prisons.
2. Start respecting the rights of refugees, including social rights, health and welfare benefits.
3. Check individual asylum claims in a fair and transparent way.
The demands to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR):
1. Hold Israel accountable to adhere to the refugee commission.
2. Monitor our asylum request process from start to finish, in a transparent and fair way adhering to international standards.
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Topics: Migration
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