Netanyahu threatens deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers following violence in Tel Aviv

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 3, 2023

At least 160 people were wounded in the flare-up of clashes between Eritrean refugees and riot police. NGOs say the violence was avoidable.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for tough measures on Sunday, including deportations, against those implicated in the violent clashes between Eritrean asylum seekers and the Israeli police that broke out a day earlier.

Hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers clashed with each other and the Israeli police on Saturday during protests that started during a march on the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv, which was set to hold a cultural event marking the 30th anniversary of the east African country’s regime’s rise to power.

Similar events have been held around the world and have also been marred by violence or cancelled due to fear that it could cause tensions. 

At least 160 people were wounded in total, with eight in a serious condition, 13 in moderate and 93 sustaining light injuries, Israeli police said.

At least 50 police officers were also injured amid the stone-throwing between protesters, and at least 50 people were arrested following the riots.

“The prime minister has decided to convene a special ministerial team to review the possibility of taking action against illegal infiltrators who took part in the unrest, including deportation,” the prime minister’s office said on Sunday, a working day in Israel. 

A police officer speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz said that there was complete “chaos” among the police force in how to respond to the violent unrest. 

In a bid to describe the intensity of the protests, one police source said that if the police had not used live fire at some of the protesters “they would have slaughtered them”.

Preventable violence

Opponents of the Eritrean regime came to the protests in blue while supporters wore red. The separate rallies, however, soon descended into street battles lasting several hours. 

Using wooden slabs, pieces of metal and rocks, the protesters wreaked havoc through the south of Tel Aviv, where many asylum seekers live. Rioters also smashed shops and cars.

“If we hadn’t been there today and hadn’t intervened between the two groups of demonstrators – the supporters and opponents of the regime – we would be counting bodies,” a senior police official told Channel 12 Saturday.

An investigation has also been opened on whether the use of firearms by the Israeli police was lawful. 

“The demonstrators wanted to protest the blatant interference of the Eritrean embassy in the lives of those who fled the brutal dictatorship. Eritrean embassies around the world are pursuing asylum seekers, and in other countries, embassy events have been cancelled precisely because of the fear of flare-ups as we see before our eyes now,” said HaMoked for Refugees and Immigrants and ASSAF, an aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers, in a statement on Saturday.

“This bloody failure could and should have been prevented.”

The Israeli right rejects African migrants’ claims of asylum seeking, referring to all as “illegal infiltrators”.

Netanyahu has now requested ministers present him with plans to remove “all the other illegal infiltrators” in the country. 

Meanwhile, the country’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is now planning to introduce a law that would override Israeli law on human dignity and move ahead with the mass deportation of people that entered Israel illegally.


Israel’s Netanyahu calls for deportation of Eritrean refugee ‘rioters’

Al-Jazeera  /  September 3, 2023 

The Israeli PM also requested that ministers present him with plans ‘for the removal of all the other illegal infiltrators’.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants Eritrean refugees and migrants involved in a violent clash in Tel Aviv to be deported immediately and has ordered a plan to remove all of the country’s African migrants.

The remarks came a day after bloody protests by rival groups of Eritreans in south Tel Aviv left dozens of people injured.

 “We want harsh measures against the rioters, including the immediate deportation of those who took part,” Netanyahu said in a special ministerial meeting called to deal with the aftermath of the violence on Sunday.

He requested that the ministers present him with plans “for the removal of all the other illegal infiltrators,” and noted in his remarks that the Supreme Court struck down some measures meant to coerce the refugees to leave.

Under international law, Israel cannot forcibly send migrants back to a country where their life or liberty may be at risk.

Ahead of an official visit to Cyprus, Netanyahu said the ministerial team was seeking to deport 1,000 supporters of the Eritrean government who were involved in Saturday’s violence.

“They have no claim to refugee status. They support this regime,” Netanyahu said. “If they support the regime so much, they would do well to return to their country of origin.”

About 25,000 African migrants live in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who say they fled conflict or repression. Israel recognizes very few as asylum seekers, seeing them overwhelmingly as economic migrants, and says it has no legal obligation to keep them.

On Sunday, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the site of the unrest, voicing his support for the police and calling for those who broke the law to be placed in detention until they are deported. “They don’t need to be here. It’s not their place,” he said.

Some people heckled Ben-Gvir as he walked with a police escort, telling him to “go home.”

Al-Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from West Jerusalem, said politicians on both sides of the parliament have had their say in the matter.

“The far-right coalition of Netanyahu’s government demand that instigators and ringleaders should be deported,” he said, adding that the coalition blames the high court for blocking attempts to deport people in the past.

“Opposition members of the Knesset say successive governments have failed to grasp this issue and deal with the situation,” Brennan said.

“There’s politics involved in this,” Brennan noted, adding that Netanyahu “clearly wants to be seen to be doing something”.

Earlier on Saturday, Eritreans – supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government – faced off with construction lumber, pieces of metal and rocks, smashing shop windows and police cars.

Israeli police in riot gear shot tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds while officers on horseback tried to control the protesters.

Under international law, Israel cannot forcibly send migrants back to a country where their life or liberty may be at risk.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he didn’t think deporting supporters of the Eritrean government would be a problem.

Al-Jazeera’s Brennan said opposition parliamentarians have questioned Netanyahu’s response to the violence, asking him where the refugees would be deported to.

Israel recognizes very few as asylum seekers, seeing them overwhelmingly as economic migrants, and says it has no legal obligation to keep them.

The country has tried a variety of tactics to force them out, including sending some to a remote prison, holding part of their wages until they agree to leave the country or offering cash payments to those who agree to move to another country, somewhere in Africa. Critics accuse the government of trying to coerce the migrants into leaving.



Dozens of people injured in clashes between rival Eritrean groups in Israel 

Al-Jazeera  /  September 2, 2023 

Supporters and critics of Eritrean government engage in violent clashes at a pro-government event in Tel Aviv.

More than 100 people have been injured in clashes between rival groups of protesters from Eritrea in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv with the police firing warning shots in the air to disperse the demonstrators.

Fighting broke out on Saturday after hundreds of Eritreans critical of their government approached a venue where a pro-government event was being held.

Protesters broke through police barriers and smashed windows of police and other cars as well as windows of nearby stores, the Haaretz newspaper reported. They were also able to enter the venue near the Eritrean embassy and smash up chairs and tables.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical service, said it treated 114 people, eight of whom were in serious condition.

Footage on social media showed Eritrean government supporters beating anti-government protesters with clubs. Reuters journalists saw men with head wounds and bloodied arms, some lying on the ground of a children’s playground.

Al-Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said the police did not anticipate the intensity of the violence that broke out.

“The demonstrators were able to break through the barriers pretty rapidly. The police had to respond with tear gas, stun grenades. There were running battles between the demonstrators and the police in riot equipment,” he said.

“At least 30 police officers were injured in the clashes,” Brennan said, adding that there are questions if the police could have better responded.

Police said they arrested 39 suspects “who assaulted police and threw stones” at officers. Some of them were carrying weapons, tear gas and an electrical stun gun, officers said.

Police added they were reinforcing their personnel in the area as fighting between Eritreans and police and between supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government was reported to be continuing elsewhere in south Tel Aviv.

President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has ruled Eritrea since it gained independence in 1991. Asmara has never held elections. Political parties are banned, and freedom of expression and the press are heavily restricted.

There is neither a parliament nor independent courts or civil society organizations. In addition, there is strict mandatory military service and a forced labour system, from which many Eritreans flee abroad.

The anti-government demonstrators had previously asked the police to cancel the pro-government event, which was organized by Eritrea’s embassy, which they accuse of trying to monitor and track them.

“There are stark divisions among the nearly 20,000 Eritreans based in Israel. Critics of the regime describe it as the North Korea of Africa,” the Al-Jazeera correspondent said.

“In 2019, a pro-president supporter was stabbed and beaten to death in Tel Aviv by three people opposed to the president.”