Africans face uncertain Israeli future after perilous migration

Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:17am EST
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By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

TEL AVIV, Israel (Reuters) - Angesom Solomon had to dodge bullets and tear his way through barbed-wire fencing to get into Israel across its testy border with Egypt after a two-month trek from his native Eritrea.

Six years on, he is married, a father and holds a coveted menial job in Tel Aviv. But a sense of security still eludes him, as one of 60,000 African migrants living in Israel who face indefinite jail time under a law parliament passed this month.

Solomon, 28, got a rare work permit that allows him to earn 6,000 shekels ($1,500) a month as a school custodian. It is due to expire next month and may not be renewed - a situation he fears would expose him to police round-ups as an illegal worker.

"I wanted to change my life (but) in Israel I am also afraid," said Solomon, who absconded army conscription in Eritrea in 2007 to make the two-month trip via war-ravaged Sudan and then Egypt.

In Egypt's Sinai desert, he hid for two days while Egyptian troops fired at other African migrants, then successfully dashed into Israel.

At the time, he was briefly detained by the Israelis and then released to Tel Aviv, the coastal metropolis in whose lower-income south many Africans have carved out a tenement network including clinics, cafes and churches.

Israel's right-wing government has cracked down on the migrant influx, however, seeing a threat to public order. It fortified the Egyptian border fence and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to deport migrants in Israel.

SOCIAL FABRIC   Continued...

Angesom Solomon, a 28-year-old African migrant from Eritrea, is silhouetted as he attends a first-grade Hebrew lesson at Kehila Democratic school in Tel Aviv, where he also works as a school custodian, November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun