UN Holds the Key to Israel’s Refugee Dilemma

June 29, 2012 by Raffe Gold
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Refugees define the failing state of a Nation, of a society where wars are waged across borders and between cities, tribes, clans and families, where thousands of innocent people suffer in the crossfire and become casualties like those we’ve just seen in the recent deaths off the coasts in Indonesia..writes Raffe Gold.

Raffe Gold

Entire villages and towns can be uprooted in the course of a day and suddenly thousands of people find themselves with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Those who are fortunate enough to escape with their lives often travel thousands of kilometers, many dying along the way, to the nearest free country where they believe they will be safe.

Here in Israel we have, over the years, absorbed many tens of thousands of refugees of all religions, creeds and races from dozens of countries. In the 1980s Israel was involved in Operation Solomon and Operation Moses, two covert operations to free tens of thousands of Sudanese and Ethiopians from their oppressed lands. It is this tradition of granting help to the helpless that led Prime Minister Menachim Begin to offer refuge to Vietnamese boat people and it is with this in mind that scores of Sudanese, Eritrean and North African refugees currently seek asylum here in Israel. To those who have lost everything, Israel is, as it has been to countless people throughout history, the Promised Land.

But it is incumbent on refugees to accept and act within the ethos and culture of their host nation, and the most recent upsurge in antipathy towards African refugees is precisely because they have brought an unacceptable level of crime to the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.

A tragic common trait of areas which have suffered economic decline is that they often suffer a significant increase in criminality because of unemployment. This is exactly what has happened in South Tel Aviv where the Israeli government has left many of these refugees to fend for themselves or to hope that various Non-Government Organizations are able to help them get on their feet. Because of the increase in violent crime, there has been a backlash against these refugees from the residents of South Tel Aviv. The crimes most commonly committed are rape, burglary and street violence.

Many Israelis are currently railing against the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, not because of racism but because they have seen their lives reach breaking point. Their environment is unsafe, their homes lose their value and unemployment rises because an illegal immigrant will do their work for less.

Many are saying that the Israeli government is responsible for the fate of the refugees and must care for them; the Israeli government however states that it does not have the resources for such a task and so resorts to the less desired option of deportation.

But there is a way to end this nightmare. Currently UNRWA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, has the sole responsibility of caring for Palestinian refugees.

It has a well-funded infrastructure of $1.23 billion to look after just under 5 million Palestinian refugees (the United Nations High Council on Refugees, which is responsible for all other refugees, has a budget of just over $2 billion yet cares for more than 33 million people)

Furthermore UNRWA has been accused by Israel and others of institutional bias because virtually all its employees are Palestinians, a practice banned by the UNHCR for fear of the agency and its employees being accused of nepotism and corruption. Worse still, UNRWA refuses to help refugees under its care resettle into a new life. Because of UNRWA many Palestinians are left in limbo.

Yet UNRWA can solve at least some of the problems which Israel, and her refugees, are facing. Why not simply extend the mandate of UNRWA to include those refugees who come from war-torn North Africa and the Middle East? UNRWA already has multiple refugee centers and if UNRWA can make room for those who are truly suffering, a solution may be at hand.

Furthermore if the mandate of UNRWA is altered to actively help refugees, both Palestinian and North African, resettle into new countries as the UNHCR does then the refugee problem that has been such an impediment to Middle East peace would ease. This solution would help relieve the Israeli government and people of the burden of having to care for these refugees and South Tel Avivians will be able to live their lives in peace.

As someone who has heard the plight of these refugees firsthand, it is impossible not to understand the depth of their suffering. Emerging scarred from civil wars they trek through the desert for weeks on end, surrendering their life savings to smugglers, their chances of survival are still slender.

The Sinai desert is littered with bodies of those who sought a better life. On the way to Israel many of the women are raped and a large number of refugees are simply murdered for their organs. One cannot in good conscience deny these people asylum but it is time for all countries, and all peoples, to help alleviate their suffering and prove to those that seek a better life that humanity still has what it takes.



Raffe Gold is a Graduate of Macquarie University in Sydney and now lives in Israel where he works in Social Media.


One Response to “UN Holds the Key to Israel’s Refugee Dilemma”
  1. Rachel says:

    Your claim that the immigrants are criminals is false. According to Israeli Police data, the crime for African migrants is less than half that of Israelis.

    There’s also reason for the UN to get involved. The African refugees should be naturalized as citizens of Israel, just as would happen in any other democratic, Western country. They have just as much to offer to Israel as any white Jewish migrant.

    Please support a multi-cultural, non-racist, humane Israel:

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