TEL AVIV: Already victims of human trafficking, having been kidnapped from their home country of Ethiopia, brought to Egypt’s Sinai and captured as they tried to enter Israel illegally, some 20 Ethiopian women and girls continue to face hardships as the Israeli government skirts their own laws to protect victims of human trafficking.
Halle, a 22-year-old Ethiopian woman who illegally entered Israel last year and currently works as a domestic worker without proper documentation, told Bikyamasr.com that she doesn’t expect the girls and women currently being held in jails in the country will change their stance.
“They don’t care about us black people. Israel is not the place we thought it would be,” she began. “And if I go to get help or try to get asylum, I could end up just like them. It is from one suffering to another we Ethiopian women go to.”
According to local Israeli reports, the women, half of whom are 14- and 15-years-old, and classified as “unaccompanied minors,” under Israel’s own laws were supposed to be transferred to boarding schools and not sent to prison.
However, the country’s education ministry thought differently, refusing to accept the girls and keeping them locked up in Givon and Saharonim jails.
A UN refugee official, who spoke to Bikyamasr.com on condition of anonymity, said that “we are working toward ending these policies that threaten the health and safety of women refugees who pose no violent threat to Israeli society.”
But the official added it is an uphill battle and one that officials have appeared unwilling to change, especially in light of the recent deportations of African migrants to their country of origin, without regard to their potential safety upon return.
The jails the young Ethiopians are held are adult prisons and not meant to house juveniles.
As for the adults, Haaretz newspaper reported they “were supposed to have been sent to Maagan, a shelter for female victims of trafficking run by the Social Affairs Ministry.”
With Maagan already full, the adults have joined the young girls in the two prisons.
Under Israel’s own laws, human trafficking victims should be held only until another solution can be found for them. As for minors, they can be held for only 60 days.
Currently, the young teenagers have been in prison for over three months beyond the 60 day limit.
“It is the worst situation imaginable. I spent two weeks in an Israel jail before they put me in a women’s home,” added Halle. “The conditions are horrible and they treat us like lesser people who deserve no better than a cell. It is barbaric.”
All this comes on the heels of killings of Africans in Israel this summer.
“We hear it daily in this country,” said one Eritrean worker, who asked Bikyamasr.com not to be named due to the risk of losing his work permit. “The government here treats us bad, but it is everyday Israelis that we see are becoming more vocal in their hate for black people.”
The workers’ statements from East Africa come a week after three Eritreans were stabbed in a south Tel Aviv Internet cafe by an Israeli man who fled the scene.
Police have been unable to identify the attacker, nor have they uncovered a motive for the violent attack, +972 Magazine reported.
Isias Tesprem, the owner of the cafe in the Shapira neighborhood, told reporters he did not recognize the attacker.
“I never expected anything like this to happen — we have no outstanding debts and have not hurt anyone,” said Tesprem, who has been in Israel for five years.
The attack was the latest in a string of violent incidents targeting African migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, believed to number 60,000 to 70,000 in Israel.
Their status has been the source of intense political discussions.
It is not the first violent attack against Africans in the country.
On July 20, an Eritrean man was shot in the early morning when an unknown assailant opened fire in a Shapira neighborhood building where several Eritreans were sleeping in the hallway, the Israeli news outlet Ynet reported.
ActiveStills.org posted photos from the crime scene, reporting that the shooting took place in the garden outside the building.
No arrests have been made and police have said they believe the incident was most likely a robbery.
But Africans disagree, telling Bikyamasr.com that the increase in violence is part of the overall campaign to rid the country of “black Africans.”
“It can be felt everywhere. When we walk on the street and especially if we are walking with a white Israeli girl,” said Ahmad, a Sudanese construction worker who arrived in Israel two years ago via Egypt.
Jerusalem has seen an uptick in anti-migrant violence in recent months.
On July 12, a man and his pregnant wife, both from Eritrea, were injured when their apartment was the target of arson. The fire was set barely five weeks after a similar attack transpired in the Israeli capital. In both cases, the fire was set at the entrance to the apartment door.
Israel is continuing its deportation of African migrants in a crackdown government officials have described as the protection of “infiltrators.”
In June and July, thousands of Africans were booted from the country, and the government did not mince words when doing so.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is the “Jewish homeland” and it has “no obligation to offer asylum” to African migrants.
“Israel is a small country. We are 8 million people and geographically, we’re the size of [the US state] New Jersey. We are too small to be the solution of all of Africa’s problems,” he said.
For the Africans who remain in the country, the rising racism against them is a worrying prospect for people who fear returning to their own country. They told Bikyamasr.com that by using these tactics and the police not finding suspects in the string of killings perpetrated against Africans, it shows the government “is unwilling to live up to its moral obligation to help those in need.”
Ahmad argued that “Israel was supposed to be a place that helps those in need, but it turns out they are as racist as other countries against us Africans and also against the Palestinians.”