Israel Studies Plan to Detain Illegal Migrants
Publisher: The Wall Street Journal, USA
Author: By Joel Millman and Joshua Mitnick
Story date: 15/11/2011
Language: English

TEL AVIV – Israel is considering controversial new legislation to rebuff a surging tide of African asylum-seekers through lengthy detention time, highlighting an emotionally charged debate in a country established to absorb Jewish refugees after World War II.

Facing issues that echo the U.S. immigration dilemma, the Israeli parliament's Internal Affairs Committee on Monday began taking up Israel's so-called Prevention of Infiltration Law. Originally promulgated in 1954 to curb Palestinians seeking to return to their homes – and to counter cross-border attacks by militants – it is a law that the government now wants to modify to enable three-year detentions without trial for illegal migrants entering from Africa via Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Migrant-rights advocates say that would be in violation of a 60-year-old United Nations convention on refugee rights, adopted largely as a response to the world's inaction to the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

"The refugee convention says refugees can't be penalized because they came illegally," says Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

To become law, the bill must pass in the Internal Affairs Committee and two final readings in the parliamentary plenum. On Monday, the parliament's legal counsel told members of plans to submit a revised version for consideration by the Israeli cabinet. The debate is a response to a trickle of African refugees that has turned into a steady stream over more than five years. When the flow of Africans was in its early stages, a large proportion of the asylum seekers were Sudanese Muslims from Darfur. Pressure at home and from American Jewish groups for better treatment persuaded Israel to offer citizenship to several hundred of the Darfurians.

From an average of around 1,000 arrivals each month through 2010 and the first half of this year, the number of Eritrean, Sudanese and Ethiopian"infiltrators" – Israel's official term for illegal entrants rose to 2,000 per month in the summer.

Some 1,300 Africans were captured along the border with Egypt between the first and 10th of November, according to Israel's Population and Immigration Authority.

Israel's influx of illegals is still minuscule compared with the inflows to Europe or the U.S. The Tel Aviv municipality estimates there are 35,000 migrant workers in the city, Israel's second-largest, who entered the country legally. Officials estimate there are an additional 20,000 who entered legally as guest workers and stayed after their permits expired.

Concerned about maintaining a Jewish majority, Israel has looked askance at allowing "return" rights to Palestinians. There is a broad worry in Israel that too many non-Jewish residents will erode the society's ethnic core.

As with the U.S. and Europe, several factors feed the migrant flow, including the lawlessness of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where Bedouin clans that traditionally thrived from drug and arms trafficking have branched into migrant smuggling. Also, Israel already imports farm labor from as far away as Thailand and Nepal, and employs thousands of Africans as hotel workers and janitors.

Growing dependence on foreign workers has exacerbated a growing income gap here, which Israeli economists calculate is second only to the U.S.'s among economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Analysts here say Israel's failure to strictly regulate the flow of low-skilled labor drags salaries down.

"From a humanitarian point of view, we should accept a small number of people who are really refugees – but not those who come to seek better jobs or a better life,"" says Momi Dahan, a Hebrew University economist affiliated with the liberal Israel Democracy Institute. "The fact is that Israel is a very small country, with a relatively small population, we can't afford to have so many people coming from Africa to Israel."

Across Israel, more than 40,000 Africans bear identity cards that designate them as under "Conditional Release" – a form of house arrest that prohibits the designee from working. The designation frees the government from housing and feeding the illegal migrants while stopping short of granting them refugee or asylum-seeker status.

Tesfamariam Tekeste, Eritrea's ambassador to Israel, calls the "conditional" set-up a travesty. The ban against working exposes Eritrean laborers to exploitation by unscrupulous employers, while poverty forces Africans to sleep in parks or rent from slumlords, he says.

All the same, the ambassador says his government would vigorously protest a move by Israel to designate Eritreans as refugees. "These are economic migrants, not political migrants," he says. "They are not persecuted in Eritrea."

Today, the emergence of African districts in cities including Eilat, Ashdod and Tel Aviv is alarming to many. "Look at Tel Aviv," says Ya'akov Katz, of the religious National Union party, who complains that the city is already experiencing a variant of "white flight" from some districts. Within five years, he warns, "Tel Aviv is going to be an African city."

Mr. Katz approves of the new legislation, which envisions more money to complete a security fence along Israel's border with Sinai, and new funds to complete a detention city where African "infiltrators" can be held for up to three years without formal charges or trial. Detainees may be brought for administrative hearing in front of a judge who determines the term of detention. Critics call it a "concentration camp."

Illegal immigrants deemed to be from "enemy" states, like Sudan, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, could be held indefinitely.

Liberal politicians including Yael Dayan, chairman of Tel Aviv's city council, say establishing a detention city for Africans would be morally wrong. It would also, she said, be a "budget buster."

The daughter of one of Israel's most renowned military heroes, Ms. Dayan saves her sharpest jabs for another proposal being contemplated for "infiltrators," granting soldiers permission to open fire on African refugees crossing into Israel, what proponents of the measure call "hot arrest."

"If we do that, it will be the end of us," she says.

Celebrating Peace and Unity in Libya, but Feeling Tension Beneath the Surface
Publisher: the New York Times, USA
Story date: 15/11/2011
Language: English

ZINTAN, Libya — Few towns sacrificed or contributed as much to the Libyan insurrection as this dusty mountain town southwest of Tripoli. On Tuesday there was joy, poetry, exhibitions of masterful horsemanship, parachute jumps, speeches and symbols of national unity. Dozens of war prisoners were even quietly freed.

But between the lines in many of the speeches by political leaders from around the country, there were warnings, threats and subtle jabs that suggest the revolution has many challenges ahead.

A leader from Misurata, another rebel stronghold, warned the interim government not to include anyone aligned with the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in the new administration. A national leader made several veiled warnings about the growing influence of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. And there was no sign that any rebel militias would give up their arms soon.

"Libya should have no differences between north and south nor between tribes," said Mahmoud Jibril, who led the rebels' Transitional National Council through the revolt and served as interim prime minister before stepping down two weeks ago. "We should be united so we can prove to the world that the last 42 years were an exception to Libyan history."

There were many pitch-perfect calls for competing militias, towns and tribes to meld together as one nation, as were the cheers and responses of "God is great" from a crowd of 5,000 gathered on the hilltops above an equestrian field used for Zintan festivals. The city has a population of only 50,000, but its support is critical for the new government, because so many people here have weapons at a time when sporadic confrontations continue between militias around the country.

While government officials are negotiating in Tripoli and Benghazi over who will get which posts in a new cabinet, militia leaders in Zintan and Misurata are jockeying over who will command a new national army, which is scheduled to be formed over the next month. Zintan fighters were ordered by the interim government to leave Tripoli four days ago, but they still have not departed from their checkpoints around the capital.

So it was not insignificant that Abdulrahman Souweli, a senior Misurata militia leader, told the crowd: "The people of Misurata and Zintan were together in victory. We have to remain united." But, Mr. Souweli added, "there's no place for those who worked with Qaddafi in the new government. We won't allow that."

Sitting behind him under a canopy with national leaders and foreign ambassadors was Muktar al-Akhdar, a former Qaddafi army colonel who played a critical role in leading the Zintan forces to take control of Tripoli's airport at the end of the war.

Still a militia leader, Mr. Al-Akhdar did not address the crowd. But in an interview after the speeches, he made it clear that he intended to pursue a significant national role. He said his forces did not plan to surrender their weapons until they were satisfied that a good national army and police force had been formed to protect the country.

"The people of Zintan will safeguard Libya's well-being and stability," he said, adding that even if his forces disarmed, "we know how to get weapons if anything happens to Libya."

The central message of the day was the one that officials in the interim government have been trying to project every day for weeks: One battle is over, but another is beginning — to rehabilitate the wounded, rebuild destroyed cities and get the country moving again. Unity is paramount, government officials and even militia leaders say.

The day's festival was called in the name of freedom, which Zintan fighters said was their banner throughout the war as they created a vital southern front against the forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi.

Zintan is a poor town, but one that celebrates horsemanship and poetry, and there was plenty of both on a sunny day. A young boy wearing a flowing white traditional robe recited a poem to the crowd, declaring, "Freedom is like a flower, like a bird flying over the sky."

During the festivities, according to Zintan security guards, as many as 80 people taken prisoner during the war — mostly those suspected of supporting the Qaddafi government — were released. It was done without being announced, so as not to anger the people celebrating their recent victory, the guards said.

But Mr. Jibril warned that there were threats to the nation's freedom, both internal and external. He did not mention a country by name, but it was clear he was making one more in a series of warnings about Qatar, which had offered crucial military, financial and political support to the rebels.

"If we don't stay together I'm afraid another power will have an impact in Libya," he said during his speech. At another point, he said, "If we don't unite, that could lead to foreign intervention in Libya."

Mr. Jibril is not the only leader who has warned that Qatar has gone around the rebel authorities to arm militias on their own to increase its influence and possibly to promote an Islamist agenda.

His remarks came a day after the vice chairman of the Transitional National Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, criticized other leaders for distancing themselves from Qatar.

"These statements are personal statements and do not represent the ideas of the Transitional National Council," he said. "The Transitional National Council appreciates the role of Qatar in supporting Libya."

Syria Faces New Threats as Opposition Seeks Allies
Publisher: the New York Times, USA
Story date: 15/11/2011
Language: English

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Buoyed by rising international pressure on the Syrian government, Syria's opposition courted support from the Arab League and Russia on Tuesday, and Turkey, a central player in the growing crisis, threatened new economic penalties against Syria, its increasingly isolated neighbor.

The moves came a day after what some activists portrayed as one of the bloodiest episodes in the eight-month uprising. Reports were conflicting, but one human rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said that more than 71 people were killed Monday, including 34 soldiers engaged in clashes with army defectors. If true, the deaths of the soldiers would constitute one of the highest tolls since defectors began carrying out attacks against government troops.

But unlike past episodes, when the Syrian government publicized the deaths of soldiers and security forces, official Syrian news outlets carried no reports about the clashes.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said it could not corroborate the Syrian Observatory's account of the military casualties, though it also called Monday one of the uprising's bloodier days, with at least 51 civilians killed. "We don't have any confirmation of what they're claiming," said Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees.

Reports of the violence emerged Tuesday as the Syrian government announced that it had released 1,180 prisoners, in what appeared to be an effort to show flexibility and sincerity only hours before the Arab League was set to suspend Syria as punishment for President Bashar al-Assad's repression of dissent. A terse announcement of the prisoners' release by the official news agency, Sana, said only that the freed prisoners had been "involved in recent events" and had not committed murder.

Rights activists confirmed that the freed prisoners included Kamal Labwani, a prominent lawyer halfway through a 15-year sentence for having insulted Mr. Assad. Reuters quoted his daughter as saying that Mr. Labwani had no idea that Syria was in the throes of an upheaval, having been denied outside contact.

Representatives of the Russian government and the Arab League met with political opponents of Mr. Assad, while Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, scrapped a plan to explore for oil in Syria and threatened to curtail its provision of electricity.

The uprising in Syria, one of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East, has become the latest focal point among the Arab revolts that have toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Faced with Mr. Assad's intransigence, the normally placid Arab League voted last weekend to suspend Syria from the group. On Monday King Abdullah II of Jordan called on him to step down. King Abdullah is the first leader from one of Syria's Arab neighbors to go that far.

On Tuesday, officials of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, which has been one of Mr. Assad's steadiest remaining allies, met with emissaries of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group. The group said that it failed to gain Russia's support for anything more than a dialogue with Mr. Assad.

"We want to negotiate the steps of how to change the regime, and that's not acceptable for the Russians," said Sammir Nachar, a member of the council.

Nonetheless, activists said the meeting itself was a possible sign of Russia's impatience with the direction of the Syrian conflict.

At the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League, the group held meetings with other representatives of the Syrian National Council and asked them to devise plans for a transition of power.

In Turkey, where the government's relationship with Syria has been badly strained by Mr. Assad's repression, officials said that plans for a Turkish oil company to explore for new deposits in Syria had been canceled, and that Turkish power lines into Syria might be severed. "Right now we are supplying electricity there," the energy minister, Taner Yildiz, told reporters in Ankara, the capital. "If this course continues, we may have to review all of these decisions."

While Turkey supplies only a small percentage of Syria's power needs, the threats underscored how badly Syria's relationship had deteriorated with Turkey, its top trading partner.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has castigated Mr. Assad before, said Turkey no longer had confidence in the Syrian government. Mr. Erdogan said he hoped that Syria, "now on a knife edge, does not enter this road of no return, which leads to the edge of the abyss."

Human rights groups calculated Monday's death toll, raised from an initial report of 28, with the aid of telephone interviews and messages from witnesses in Syria, which has restricted foreign press coverage. The new figures make Monday the deadliest day in the country since Oct. 29, when 40 people were killed.

But the circumstances of the deaths remained unclear. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said defectors had clashed with soldiers in the southern province of Dara'a. It said 12 defectors, 24 people it identified as civilians and 34 government soldiers had been killed. The group called the confrontations the biggest since the uprising began in the same province.

Mr. Idlibi of the Local Coordination Committees said that 28 civilians had been killed in Dara'a, and that defections had taken place there. But the group had no details on the nature of the clashes.

The United Nations said this month that at least 3,500 people had been killed in Syria since the uprising started in March. The government disputes the death toll and has blamed armed groups for the unrest.

Nada Bakri reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Anthony Shadid contributed reporting from Beirut.

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