Asylum Seekers in Jeopardy

11 January 2018

The NIF community is mobilizing to prevent the government from executing a mass expulsion of African asylum seekers in Israel.

Last week, the Israeli government announced a new procedure that allows the imprisonment of asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. This follows the decision to close the Holot detention center for migrants in the Negev.

If they agree to leave Israel, the government is offering them a one-time payment and has reportedly made plans for them to be allowed to go to Rwanda.

Approximately 20,000 refugees have agreed in the past to this offer and settled in Rwanda or back home but evidence suggests they have not been well received there. Some have faced persecution and even torture.

There are approximately 38,000 African refugees and asylum seekers currently in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who reached Israel via Egypt to escape war and persecution back home. A wall was later built along the Sinai border to keep them out.

The new policy technically only applies to those who have yet to file asylum applications. Given the tiny number of asylum applications approved by Israel and the bureaucratic obstacles to filing claims, many asylum seekers fall into this category. Rights groups have reported that 7,000 individuals tried, and failed, to file for asylum last year.

Dror Sadot, Spokesperson of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants told the Jerusalem Post that most of the refugees are legitimate asylum seekers fleeing genocide.

“With a refugee crisis all over the world, Israel, which has enough resources to absorb 35,000 refugees, has a moral obligation to grant refugee status. Jewish people know best what it is like to be a refugee, and it is the obligation of a Jewish state to accept people who are asking for asylum.

“The government has crossed a red line, and we see a lot of panic in the community – particularly at our Crisis Intervention Center where there are now lines outside our offices. There is a complete lack of transparency, and it is terrifying these people.”

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and the other NIF grantees are working intensively to raise awareness of the moral need to help these refugees through media campaigns, public protests, and lobbying.

“We are going to fight as hard as we can,” said Hotline for Refugees and Migrants Executive Director Reut Michaeli. “The dream scenario is that the government sees that they do not have the support of the Israeli and international public and decide to quietly drop their plans.”

In North America, Jewish groups including NIF sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, “We are asking Israel to do the right thing, the Jewish thing, to be a light unto the nations in the way we treat the strangers among us.”

Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindal