Although he has been extradited from Israel, 30-year-old Eritrean Johny Goytiom Kafl who had sought for refuge brims with satisfaction as he looks out upon thousands of fellow protesters rallying against the impending expulsions, all while peacefully secured by police.
It’s such displays of civil action that he most admires about his adoptive home of the past nine years since he escaped one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, and then faced torture, kidnapping and abuse during his exodus throughout Africa.
“You are treated like a human being in Israel,” he said in fluent Hebrew. “Here I am not afraid, but in Eritrea, I was afraid,”he was heard as saying.
Kafl, along with tens of thousands of other Africans, now fear their stay in the Holy Land is coming to an abrupt end. Israel has given many of them until April 1 to leave for an unnamed African destination.
Israel considers the vast majority of the nearly 40,000 migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. The Africans, nearly all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and face renewed danger if they return.
As the world grapples with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the issue has struck a raw nerve in Israel — established on the heels of the Holocaust.
Critics at home and in the Jewish American community have called the government’s proposed response unethical and a stain on Israel’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.
The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots have all appealed to halt the plan.
But the government remains steadfast, bristling at what it considers cynical comparisons to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany.
The Africans started moving toward Israel in 2005 after neighboring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.
But Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to deport them and offering them menial jobs in hotels and local municipalities.
Kafl, like many of his compatriots, fled Eritrea to escape its lifelong military conscription in slavery-like conditions and fears death if he returns.
The Associate Press