16 July 2012
An estimated 61,000 Africans foreign nationals currently live in Israel, most of whom crossed the border with Egypt to arrive here. Around 70 per cent are from Eritrea, 10 percent from Sudan, 10 percent from Darfur, and 10 percent from other African countries such as Liberia and the Congo. Some 2,500 asylum seekers are currently incarcerated in three detention centers; in the coming year the number of detainees is expected to grow dramatically as the existing detention facilities is expanded, a new facility is built, and the Anti-Infiltration Law is implemented.
The Sudanese and Eritreans theoretically have been granted "group protection," which means that Israel will not deport them to their home countries. However, the government refuses to review their request for asylum. The remaining 10%, who mainly come from Liberia and the Congo, can try to undergo the Refugee Status Determination Process (RSD), but they claim that the Interior Ministry has a non-recognition policy. Since 2008, just 17 refugees, or less than 0.01 percent of applicants, have received refugee status. Israel does not give any of the asylum seekers work permits or other welfare benefits.
The government currently has no clear long-term policy on this issue. In December 2011, the Israeli government decided to erect a detention facility "to house infiltrators and to curb illegal infiltration into Israel." In addition, it decided that the capacity of Saharonim Prison in Ketziot (located in the Negev), which currently serves as the detention facility for refugees entering Israel from Africa via Egypt, will be expanded from 2,000 to 5,400.
Also in January 2012, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, permitting administrative detention of up to three years, with limited judicial review, of those who infiltrate into Israel, and up to five years for anyone found providing shelter, employment or transportation to an "infiltrator." The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a strong statement against the Anti-Infiltration Law, and recommended that it be amended.
The burden of absorbing the asylum seekers has fallen on those living on Israel's social periphery. Around 40,000 asylum seekers live in the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, while the rest live in cities in southern Israel – Eilat, Arad, Kiryat Gat, Beer-Sheva, and Ashkelon and in Jerusalem. Even before the asylum seekers arrived, residents in these areas suffered from declining infrastructure such as poor sanitation, and increasing housing prices.
Prominent politicians, including from the Likud party, have been stoking the flames of xenophobia racism and incitement against the asylum seekers, calling them a "cancer", "rapists," "carrying contagious diseases" and more. Anti-asylum seeker rallies have been held and there have been a number of mob attacks against Africans and their businesses. Public sympathy for the asylum seekers is very low: only 25% of f Israelis polled recently feel that defending refugee rights is "important," while 49%felt that it is "harmful."
In 2012, NIF intends to invest more than $100,000 on programs relating to refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. Make a donation designated to support this work.