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People without Borders

Binyamin Rose

During the past six years, more than 53,000 Africans have escaped war-torn, poverty-stricken lands and found havens in Israel. The uninvited guests pose demographic, security, and political challenges to the only democracy in the Middle East. But putting them on a plane back home is not an option. As the UN insists on rights for asylum seekers and NGOs sponsor emotionally stirring protests, how can a small country with limited resources gently show these refugees the door?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It was a young boy wearing an eye-patch who caught Gal Lusky’s attention.

Lusky, founder of Israeli Flying Aid, an NGO that provides disaster response to countries with whomIsraelhas no diplomatic relations, was heading a group of 30 Israelis in an isolated village inEritreain 2006. She was handing out candies to youngsters when she noticed a boy standing forlornly in the distance. She approached to ask him his name. His answer caused her to do a double take. Lusky summoned a translator.

“I don’t have to ask,” said the translator. “His name is Dayan. Everyone inEritreawith only one eye calls themselves Dayan.”

The boy nodded in acknowledgment, even if he didn’t understand the entire conversation.

When Lusky asked, through the translator, what the little boy “does,” he replied: “I’m an Israeli general.”

It’s not surprising that Eritreans would admire Moshe Dayan, the legendary IDF chief of staff andIsrael’s defense minister during the miraculous Six Day War in 1967 — a year whenEritrea’s military campaign to win independence fromEthiopiawas at its peak.

What I do find curious is a statement I hear less than an hour after hearing Lusky’s tale. The speaker is Mulugeta Tuumzghi, an official spokesman for the Eritrean community inIsrael. The location: south Tel Aviv’sLevinskyPark, which Eritreans who fled their native land have all but taken over. 

Tuumzghi doesn’t need a translator. His English is better than that of most Israelis and his accent is cultured. He also happens to be tall enough to be an NBA center. He towers over his fellow Eritreans who have gathered around, attracted by a visit from the foreign press corps.

“No one here even knew whereIsraelwas,” says Tuumzghi, when asked why more than 36,000 Eritreans have flocked here since 2007. “Eritreahas almost no connection to the outside world.”

Who’s telling the truth? The seven-year-old boy with the eye-patch, or the nearly seven-foot-tall Tuumzghi?

“He’s fibbing,” claims Lusky about Tuumzghi in a follow-up conversation. The vast majority of Eritreans and Sudanese claim they came toIsraelas refugees and asylum seekers. The reality, says Lusky, is they come toIsraelas part of a well-planned operation that begins in their rural villages, winds through several countries, and is designed to end up providing them a job inIsrael. If it became too commonly known that they are job-seekers, not asylum seekers, their case for staying inIsraelwould be weakened.

Lusky’s contention can also be verified by reviewing reports filed by the United Nations, as well as several NGOs that represent the interests of African refugees and asylum seekers.Israelofficially refers to them as infiltrators because they crossed the border illegally.

 

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