Our Role in Defending the People Seeking Asylum in Israel

12 February 2018

The status of people seeking refuge from Israel has long been tenuous, but it deteriorated further after the Israeli government announced in early January a new procedure to force the 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to choose between indefinite incarceration and deportation to an unnamed country in Africa. Media reports have identified this country as Rwanda.

No individual should be deported until he or she has a realistic chance to have his or her claim for asylum reviewed. That is the fundamental premise underlying our current work.

NIF was an early supporter of Israeli organizations that help stand up for the rights of the asylum seeker community in Israel. We are now providing additional funding and professional guidance to step up to the needs of the moment. Other core NIF grantees, who do not focus exclusively on this issue, are also mobilizing to support the struggle.

1) Public Advocacy: A major focus of the work of our grantees is on mobilizing parts of the Israeli public to speak out against the policy and to pressure the government to change it. A large demonstration is scheduled for February 24th.

One element of the strategy focuses on supporting the work of segments of the Israeli public whose voices have particular resonance in the public debate, such as longtime residents of south Tel Aviv whose neighborhoods have been transformed by the influx of the people seeking asylum. The more than 10,000 Israelis mobilized by Zazim to pressure pilots to refuse to fly the deportees out of Israel is another example of this work.

In addition to the coordination work it is well known for, Shatil has contributed spokespersons and messaging research and support.

2) Legal and Community Support: The panic that has gripped this community over the last month cannot be understated. NIF is helping organizations that provide services that help each asylum seeker to make an informed decision about his or her path forward.

We are also funding legal work to protect asylum seekers from those who would use this moment to try to exploit them, such as employers who may withhold wages.

There is an effort underway to seek exemptions for classes of people facing deportation. For example, the Israeli government, or the courts, might be persuaded to give protected status to all those who defected from the Eritrean military. Temporary Protected Status has already been provided to a few hundred people from Darfur.

3) Global Efforts: NIF is an organization with supporters all over the world who care about Israel. These communities are raising a voice against the government’s decision to deny basic rights. In the United States, we have also partnered with other organizations including HIAS, T’ruah, and Right Now.

A centerpiece of this work was the letter signed by 900 Jewish clergy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue.

Background on the Issue:

There are 38,000 asylum seekers in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea.

Under the new policy many of these asylum seekers will have to choose between agreeing to “self-deport” to countries where their lives may be in danger once again or face indefinite imprisonment.

The Holot detention facility built to house asylum seekers in the Negev is set to close in March. Those who do not agree to leave Israel will be locked up in regular prisons.

The policy (PDF) applies to Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who have not succeeded in applying for asylum states or who have applied but were rejected.

In Israel only a handful of people seeking refuge have been granted this refugee status.

Media reports indicate that the asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda or Uganda.

Asylum seekers who previously left Israel for Rwanda have been subject to abuse, torture, and extortion.

Additional Resources:

Everything You Need to Know About Israel’s Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers
Haaretz, 7 February 2018

Israel Hands Out Deportation Notices to African Asylum Seekers
Ynet, 4 February 2018

Israel Moves to Expel Africans. Critics Say That’s Not Jewish.
The New York Times, 2 February 2018

Better a Prison in Israel than Dying on the Way
Lior Birger, Shahar Shoham and Liat Blozman, January 2018

Why Diaspora Jews Care So Much About the Fate of Asylum Seekers in Israel
Haaretz, 31 January 2018

Libby Lenkinski on Gaga, Human Rights and Gaga for Human Rights
Creative Writing, 29 January 2018

El Al Pilots Say They Won’t Fly Deported Asylum Seekers to Africa
Haaretz, 22 January 2018

Asylum-Seekers, Back to Those Shithole Countries for You
Times of Israel, 15 January 2018

Diaspora Leaders Urge Netanyahu Not to Deport African Migrants
Times of Israel, 9 January 2018

Asylum Seekers from Eritrea and Sudan in Israel
Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, December 2017

Thousands of Asylum Seekers to Be Given 90 Days to Leave Israel or Face Prison
Haaretz, 28 December 2017