How Israel Makes Immigration Dry Up Under Desert Sun

Egypt-Israel border
Egypt-Israel border
Laurent Zecchini

SAHARONIM – Last summer, Israel passed an amendment to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, which allows refugees to be held for a minimum of three years without detention without a trial or charges being brought against them.

According to the law, refugees from “enemy states” can be held in indefinite detention, even if they have not been convicted of a crime. The law is applicable to minors and does not distinguish between asylum seekers, authorized immigrants and “infiltrators” who want to harm Israel’s security. The 1954 law was originally designed to prevent Arab “infiltrators” from crossing the border into Israel.

Israel admits that the law has a negative impact on the freedom of undocumented African immigrants, but it says it is for the good cause.

Israel says the amendment on the “prevention of infiltration” is consistent with “the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” It is constitutional and, in a word: “reasonable.” The “reason,” is the fact that the country could not stand becoming a “center of attraction” for thousands of Africans – men, women and children – who arrive each month through the Sinai desert.

Asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants arrested under the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law are housed at the Saharonim detention facility, three kilometers from the Egyptian border, near Nitzana, in the scorching hot Negev desert.

The refugees are kept at Saharonim for an “unlimited period,” of a minimum of three years. The only way detainees can arrive at a trial is if they agree to go home to their native countries. After three years, their release can be “considered” by a judge. It is a law that humanitarian associations consider heinous, but it has its logic – this punitive treatment dissuades other candidates attracted by the Jewish state that they see as an economic Eldorado.

The Israeli law is a cold-hearted monster: it does not want to hear about “refugees,” and does not differentiate between Africans who come from countries where they risk persecutions, like Eritrea or Sudan, and the other countries. Of course, the 2,400 detainees held at Saharonim can apply for asylum in Israel, but no such requests have been granted since the prison opened in July 2007.

In May, the state advised the Supreme Court to reject a petition submitted by different human rights organizations to repeal the amendment, which they say is unconstitutional according to both Israeli and international law. The state’s 97-page submission argued that incarceration was required in order to maintain state sovereignty and reduce the incentive for “infiltrators.”

And indeed, the Israeli government takes drastic steps to maintain its sovereignty. Saharonim is one among many others. There are only a few kilometers left until the brand new five meters high barbed wire fence that runs along the entire 240-kilometer Egyptian border is complete.

DNA samples

Israel’s plan is working: illegal immigration has almost completely ceased. The consequence is that thousands of African migrants are trapped in the Sinai desert, a lawless zone where Bedouin tribes put them in horrifying camps where reports are rampant of abuse and rape, sometimes for months on end, until they can pay up a ransom. About 250 people who have escaped the Sinai torture camps are now being held in Saharonim.

NGOs who denounce the treatment of asylum-seekers as criminals have not been entirely unsuccessful. On May 6, nine Eritreans and their 10 children – aged from 18 months old to seven years old – were freed after being held, for some, for about a year.

It was human rights NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers, who led this victorious fight against the Israeli justice system. The latter ended up by admitting that being minors could constitute “special humanitarian grounds” justifying their release from the Saharonim detention facility. In the center, there are about 15 children who are younger than 10 years of age and around 150 women. We do not know the number of the others – the 10 to 18 years old children still being detained.

You would think that now that the Egyptian border has been rendered unbreachable, there is no need for Saharonim to exist. This is not the case: Among the 55,000 undocumented Africans who live in Israel, hundreds have been arrested in the past few years, being considered as “infiltrators who endanger Israeli national security.” In April the Knesset adopted a law barring undocumented immigrants from sending funds abroad, which of course is sent home to their families.

In May, we learned that the Israeli police had collected about a thousand DNA samples from African immigrants who entered illegally Israel since the beginning of 2012. Just another measure to deter undocumented immigrants from crossing over into Israel. Saharonim is not going to be closing its doors any time soon.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!