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Tel Aviv protesters attack African migrants

May 24, 2012 9:33 A.M. (Updated: May 26, 2012 2:44 P.M.)
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma'an) -- Over 1,000 people protested in Tel Aviv on Wednesday calling for African migrants to be deported in a rampage that an Israeli broadcaster dubbed a "pogrom."

Crowds of demonstrators attacked African residents, smashed store-fronts belonging to the migrant community and looted other commercial properties.

Trash cans were set alight and a crowd attacked an African driving through the area, breaking his car's windows. No serious injuries were reported.

The protesters shouted "The people want the Sudanese deported" and "Infiltrators get out of our home," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Police said 20 people were arrested for assault and vandalism.

Likud MK Miri Regev, formerly the Israeli army spokeswoman, also attended the rally, saying that "the Sudanese were a cancer in our body."

Earlier this week Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai called for the expulsion of all asylum seekers.

"So what, the state of Israel, as the Jewish state, in the name of democracy, in the name of honoring UN resolutions, (should accept) a recipe for suicide?" he said.

"The truth has to be told, and believe me it is hard and it hurts, as we are the Jewish people, a merciful people."

Interviewing Yishai, Army Radio likened the incident to pogrom attacks on Jews in 19th century Europe. The minister bristled at such language, citing police findings that Sudanese and Eritrean migrants were a crime risk.

Oscar Olivier, a Congolese migrant, said on Army Radio that he has been in Israel for 18 years seeking refugee status and that the public mood reminded him of the assassination in 1995 of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an ultranationalist Jew.

"I feel like we're facing a former alcoholic who has started drinking again," he said in fluent Hebrew. "The question is not if they will kill an African because he is black, but when."

The Israeli government is erecting a fortified fence on the Egyptian border and wants to deport the migrants. But it has no ties with Sudan that would allow direct repatriation, and some humanitarian experts say it cannot force subjects of South Sudan and Eritrea back to those impoverished and ravaged states.

Eritrea's ambassador to Israel, Tesfamariam Tekeste, said in a television interview on Tuesday that Asmara would admit its citizens who return voluntarily - but not deportees.

The recent protest is the latest escalation in growing tension between migrants and locals in Israel.

In early May, two firebombs were thrown at the south Tel Aviv home of African residents.

In late April, firebombs were thrown at a kindergarten and apartments used by the African community. A 20-year-old Israeli resident of the neighborhood was questioned by police about the attacks.

In January 2011, a burning tire was thrown into the Ashdod apartment of five Sudanese refugees. Two of the men were hospitalized.

Fleeing poverty, fighting and authoritarian rule, some 60,000 Africans have crossed illegally into Israel through the relatively porous desert border with Egypt in recent years.

Israel says most of the migrants come seeking work rather than refuge, but this has been challenged by UN humanitarian agencies and civil rights groups.

As a result, the Africans are kept in a legal limbo, many of them granted temporary permits but no clear permanent status.

Around 40,000 migrant workers and over 20,000 asylum seekers live in south Tel Aviv.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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