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Israel doesn't need to deport asylum seekers to make them leave

Six ways the Israeli government is intentionally making the lives of asylum seekers unbearable.

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

An Eritrean family in Israel. (photo: Steven Wilson)

An Eritrean family in Israel. (photo: Steven Wilson)

Since 2008, the Israeli government has been implementing several policies whose purpose is to make the lives of African asylum seekers miserable, in the words of former Israeli Minister of Interior, and to coerce them to leave Israel. Both Israeli and international law prohibits the state from deporting asylum seekers to their countries of origin, leading Israel to adopt the following policies that would compel asylum seekers to leave without forcibly deportation:

1. Denial of basic rights: Since 2008, asylum seekers who reside in Israel receive a 2(A)(5), “conditional release” visa. This document does not grant its holders any rights other than the right to stay in Israel until deportation is possible. Asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare services or medical treatment, except in cases of emergency. While not legally allowed to work in Israel, asylum seekers do work, after the Israeli government promised the High Court it would not fine the employers asylum seekers. Because their visas clearly state that they do not double as work permits, many Israelis are reluctant to employ asylum seekers. As a result the latter work mostly for minimum wage or less.

2. Economic sanctions: The Israeli government adopted a number of policies to decrease asylum seekers’ salaries as well as make it difficult for them to find employment. Recently, the Israeli Tax Authority began collecting a 20 percent foreign workers tax from employers of asylum seekers. The tax was previously levied only on employers of migrant workers who are formally invited to work in Israel. Asylum seekers, however, are not entitled to the same tax breaks as migrant workers or residents — thus they pay a larger share of their low salary in taxes. In the 2014 Economic Arrangements Law, formulated by the previous government before it disbanded without passing it, the state planned on increasing the tax on employers of asylum seekers from 20 percent to 30 percent. Many employers illegally deduct the 20 percent tax from the salaries of asylum seekers.

Policeman and attack dog watch over African workers emptying asylum seeker's store (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Policeman and an attack dog watch over African workers emptying a store belonging to asylum seekers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The 2014 version of the Anti-Infiltration Law includes provisions that yet to be implemented (since they require formulating new regulations), which further cut into the salaries of asylum seekers. Under the law, employers of asylum seekers will have to place 16 percent of the asylum seekers’ pay in a deposit instead of earmarking the money for severance pay, pension and other benefits that all workers in Israel are entitled to. In addition, 20 percent of their salary after taxes of will also be placed in the deposit. Asylum seekers will be able to collect the deposit only upon leaving Israel. This means that asylum seekers will be denied the right to pension, severance pay and other benefits as long as they reside in Israel.

3. No chance of receiving refugee status: Refugee status in Israel entitles its holder to welfare and medical services, as well as the right to work. Due to the unfairness of the Israeli asylum system, the likelihood that an asylum seeker will be able to escape his or her status — devoid of rights — is close to zero. The system of examining asylum claims in Israel is very different from that of other Western countries.

The purpose of Israel’s asylum system is to reject as many people as possible under various pretenses. Until 2013, Israel prevented Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, who make up 92 percent of asylum seekers in Israel, from submitting individual asylum claims. This resulted in Israel having the lowest recognition rate of refugees in the Western world. Between 2009 and 2013 — when Israel’s asylum system was managed solely by the Ministry of Interior — only 0.15 percent of asylum requests received a positive response. The recognition rate for Eritreans stands at 0.4 percent (four Eritreans received refugee status out of 1,001 whose requests have been answered). The recognition rate for Sudanese nationals as refugees is 0 percent — not even one Sudanese citizen has received refugee status in Israel, despite the fact that over 3,100 Sudanese have filed claims since 2013. By comparison, in the first half of 2014, 84.3 percent of Eritreans worldwide received refugee status or complementary protection and 56.6 percent of Sudanese were recognized as refugees or granted complementary protection. (See table 9)

Read more: Israel hasn’t recognized one Sudanese refugee

4. Prolonged administrative detention: Starting June 2012, Israel began implementing a policy of jailing asylum seekers for prolonged periods of time without trial near the border with Egypt. This policy was struck down, twice by the High Court of Justice, but the government passed a third version of the law that would allow it to jail asylum seekers. The High Court has yet to rule on the petition filed by Israeli human rights NGOs against the current version of the law.

Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, close to the border with Egypt. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Holot detention facility in the Negev desert, close to the border with Egypt. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Under the 2014 amendment, asylum seekers who have lived in Israel for years are ordered to report to 20 months of detention without trial in the Holot detention facility, which is managed by the Israel Prison Service. After a period of detention, asylum seekers would be released back into Israel. Currently, only men without wives or small children Israel, and who entered the country over four years ago, are jailed in Holot. The detainees must sleep in the facility, take part in a daily head count and are forbidden to work outside of the facility.

5. Abuse at the Ministry of Interior: The Israeli Ministry of Interior obligates asylum seekers to renew their visas every one to two months. Without visas, asylum seekers cannot work and, if caught, may be jailed in Saharonim Prison before being transferred to 20 months of detention in Holot. In late 2013, the Ministry of Interior segregated the offices that provide services to Israelis, migrants and tourists on the one hand, and those providing services to asylum seekers. Currently, only three offices throughout Israel accept asylum seekers and their working hours are limited. This results in long lines outside these offices. Once they manage to enter the Ministry of Interior, asylum seekers undergo humiliating interrogations and clerks demand that they provide different documents — such as pay slips and apartment rental contracts in their name — before their visa is renewed. Some asylum seekers cannot obtain these documents and therefore, after waiting hours and even days in line, have to go back empty handed, fearing arrest and prolonged administrative detention.

6. Racist incitement: To justify the policy toward asylum-seekers, Israeli politicians consistently present asylum seekers as “infiltrators” who have left their homeland for Israel due to economic reasons. In addition asylum seekers, who make up about 0.5 percent of the population in Israel, are presented as a demographic threat that could destroy Israel. Politicians and community leaders also present asylum seekers as criminals and spreaders of disease, although facts do not support these assertions. This incitement, coming from prominent figures such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, various ministers, members of Knesset and rabbis, has contributed to a hostile public atmosphere toward asylum seekers, sometimes resulting in hate crimes against people with dark skin.

The burnt kindergarten (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

An asylum seeker stands among the remains of a burnt kindergarten in south Tel Aviv. The kindergarten went up in flames the night before after being firebombed. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The purpose of all these policies is to pressure asylum seekers to leave without forcibly returning them to their homeland. Ministry of Interior representatives, both outside and especially inside detention facilities, pressure asylum seekers to “agree” to leave either to their countries of origin or to “third countries” — Uganda or Rwanda. To encourage their departure, the state also provides $3,500 for each person who leaves. Testimonies of those who have left to Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda show that asylum-seekers coming from Israel face persecution, torture, detention and threats of deportation to their countries of origin.

In March 2015, the Ministry of Interior announced a new policy: asylum-seekers who refuse to leave to Rwanda will be indefinitely jailed in Saharonim prison, across the road from Holot. The Ministry of Interior summoned several dozens of Eritrean detainees in Holot and told them that they have to choose between Rwanda and open-ended imprisonment. However, none have been transferred to Saharonim prison thus far.

Elizabeth Tsurkov is a Projects’ Director at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli human rights organization.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Pedro X

      These people are not refugees. They are economic migrants. Once the border with Egypt was closed by a fence, the economic migrants quit coming.

      If they were refugees they were required to seek refuge in the country most close to them. Israel is not that country. Most of them passed through Egypt and did not stay or claim refugee status there, because Egypt did not have the prospect of prosperity. They have no rights to seek economic benefits in Israel. They are free to apply to European or other countries in Africa, Asia, or North or South America, if any of countries in other areas of the world believe they are indeed refugees and not economic migrants.

      It is ironic that in all the years these economic migrants have stayed in Israel, the left wing nut jobs calling out discrimination do not find these people a new home in the leftist countries. Certainly the United States, Britain, Brazil, Spain, Ireland, France, Russia or China could easily absorb 80,000 economic migrants. Whether they want to do so, is another matter.

      Reply to Comment
      • “These people are not refugees. They are economic migrants. Once the border with Egypt was closed by a fence, the economic migrants quit coming”

        Asylum hearings determine their refugee status and these have been systematically avoided. They are in legal limbo through direct State policy, which is why the Court has been forced to act.

        That the fence has prevented further refugees incoming means that the hysteria of a flood no longer has factual support. The issue is solely those in the country, and the determination of exactly what legal process is in Israel. This case goes far beyond the revulsion shown by the national right for these people to the very core of rule of law.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          Fences do not stop migrants in the Spanish enclaves of Melilla or Ceuta in North Africa. The migrants head there in their tens thousands. A giant body of water does not stop migrants beween North Africa and Europe and between Turkey and the Greek islands. There we have a flow in the hundreds of thousands. The idea that fences can stop a determined migrant from crossing is entirely contradicted by all history and by current events.

          The reason why the migrants stopped coming is precisely because the State has made it abundantly clear that they will be prevented from permanently settling in Israel or for profiting significantly from their presence here. They will be granted temporary shelter and no more than that. For genuine refugees that should be a sufficient incentive if their claim to fear persecution is genuine. The fact that the migrants stopped coming very much demonstrates that migrants are seeking far more than shelter when they choose a country to try to infiltrate, but Israel is under no obligation to provide any more than that. If that is not enough for them, they can, and do, try to make it to the very generous states in Europe.

          The ones that are already in the country can have shelter, but they will get nothing more than that. If they choose not to wait in Israel until their home countries are safe for return and wish to pursue their luck elsewhere they are free to do so. Sooner or later they will all leave.

          The issue is whether the elected government or an unelected cabal of judges should have control over a country’s immigration policy.

          Reply to Comment
          • Israel is under the obligations it assumed upon ratification of the Refugee Convention. If the State were serious about honoring that treaty, it would have held regular hearings a decade ago on asylum claims; it did not, and still hasn’t. The State doesn’t care about the safety of where these refugees are going; it just wants them out. The “cabal of judges” is simply trying to apply the law that exists–all passed or ratified by prior Knessets, coherently.

            Refugees have stopped entering Israel because the double fence, patrolled from outside by the IDF, stops them. About the only bit you may have gotten right is that word of internment camps, which will amplify over space and time, will indeed deflect hope elsewhere. But this has nothing to do with the coherent application of all Israeli law.

            The issue here is Knesset Supremacy. All the High Court is really saying is that the Knesset can abrogate law, but not piecemeal. Until Basic Law is overtly changed, it controls, being the product of a Knesset. The Court is not acting in a strong sense at all. It’s just that racial purity, being blocked, sees the block as strong.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Pedro X “the leftist countries” have stepped up and are doing their job. It is Israel that is not: as Greg notes, asylum hearings have been systematically avoided.

        Percent of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers granted refugee status:

        ISRAEL: 0.07%

        INTERNATIONALLY: 56-84%

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          The refugee problem in YOUR OWN country is far worse than Israel’s. there are millions of undocumented migrants in your own country who have no pathway to citizenship. What have you done for them? NOTHING? Why does your dull sense of right and wrong awaken ONLY when you hear the words ‘Jews” and “Israel”? You don’t even have a job, you psychotic moron, but instead of looking for a job, you spend your whole day on Jewish websites! You need serious psychiatric help, Brian alias “Ben” alias “MuslimJew” alias “Giora Me’ir” alias “Givara” alias etc.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Simply baloney. You’re talking nonsense, to put it very politely.

            Regarding the United States, it resettles more refugees than any other country, by far and these refugees go on to contribute to its communities and its economy:

            http://www.unhcr.org/52693bd09.html

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            BTW, your Israel vs. US comparison is nonsensical. I am certain Jewish refugees mean nothing to you and your ilk, idiot. Anyways, per capita, Israel has absorbed and better integrated more refugees than the United States.

            In the 1950’s alone, Israel absorbed over 600.000 refugees!
            http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.nl/2011/05/how-israel-absorbed-600000-refugees-in.html

            let me know if that source is not enough. I will provide more.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            US immigration policy is active and proactive and transparent and designed to actually help people and not systematically avoid asylum hearings. And the U.S. does not blatantly discriminate in the asylum seeking process against black persons as Israel evidently has. Look your own minister called them a cancer in the body and went on to a fine career unimpeded and in fact buoyed. In the US she would have had to resign immediately. There is no denying a stark difference between the two countries on this. Just who do you think you’re kidding? Not us. ==>

            http://m.immigrationpolicy.org/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.immigrationpolicy.org%2Fjust-facts%2Frefugees-fact-sheet&utm_referrer=#3092

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            What an idiot. Here, educate yourself:

            “Zavala and his colleagues had just run up against a brutal truth that affects more than 11 million undocumented migrants who work in the shadowy low-wage depths of the American economy: speaking up against an employer who abuses you can get you arrested and deported’’.

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/28/undocumented-migrants-worker-abuse-deportation

            11 million undocumented migrants?! That is almost double the population of the State of Israel. What have you ever done for them in YOUR OWN country? Have you ever written a word in support of them in any comment section of any site? Not only do they have no papers (btw, unlike in Israel), but they are being abused and exploited (imagine that happening in Israel); they have no health insurance; they live in fear, etc. How would you know all that if you have no job yourself and instead of finding a job, you depend on government food-stamps to survive and spend your entire day on Jewish websites, fixating on- and obsessing about Jews and Israel, none of which is any of your business. Go get a life, moron.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      This is a letter to the editor which appeared a few days ago in the New York Times from a representative of Blue White Future, an Israeli group which advocates pulling in the settlers and unilaterally withdrawing to roughly the 67 lines. It’s the solution staring everyone in the face.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/opinion/an-israeli-palestinian-peace-dividend-in-dollars.html?_r=0

      I appreciate your drawing attention to the RAND Corporation’s finding that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bring $123 billion to Israel’s economy and $50 billion to the Palestinians over the next decade. This assumes, as you write, “the return of 100,000 settlers from the West Bank to Israel, with relocation costs paid for by the international community.”

      These settlers were the subject of two surveys conducted for the Israeli organization Blue White Future. In 2012, economists put the cost of relocating and absorbing them at $10 billion (in today’s dollars). A 2013 survey of these settlers found that nearly 30 percent would voluntarily relocate even without an agreement, if compensated.

      While this conflict is rooted in serious disagreements over deeply held beliefs, pocketbook issues can shape public opinion and induce change. Can Israel’s government tell its people that it will not invest $10 billion to reap $123 billion and secure their future?

      Imagine the impact if Israel enacted a voluntary relocation and compensation law for these settlers, and 30,000 moved into Israel proper. This would demonstrate Israel’s seriousness about a two-state solution and begin movement toward that solution, the only way to secure Israel as a Jewish democracy and have a viable Palestinian state.

      ORNI PETRUSCHKA

      Tel Aviv

      The writer is co-chairman of Blue White Future, a nonpartisan group.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Non partisan my foot. Deluded to the extreme. Contrary to antisemites, we the Jewish people cannot be bought with money.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          But the study done by Blue White Future shows that 30% of the settlers would be happy to be bribed.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Ok Bruce, let me teach you how grown ups analyze any story…

            First, they question their source. At best, the organization you mention is a wishful thinking naive group and their results too reflect their wishful thinking. The idea that as many as 30% would be willing to be bribed with pittance frankly just does not wash…

            Yes I say pittance because real analysis shows that the cost to Israel of evacuating 500,000 of us from Judea and Samaria into Israel would be so high that certainly the International community would not be willing to pay. And rightly so. Why should they?

            Yes Bruce, the costs would be prohibitive even if we would talk JUST in monetary terms. But what costs do we put on our security, eh Bruce?

            So, let’s see, even if a percentage (unlikely to be 30%) of those people were sucked in to indicate that they are willing to be bribed as you so gleefully put it, even then once reality dawns on those people, that number will shrink to near zero. Would there be some idiots left who would be willing to be bribed? Why of course, Bruce dear, take any group of people and you will find a percentage who are stupid. But since when are a people judged on the basis of a small number of idiots amongst them?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “March 17 (Bloomberg) — Thirty percent of West Bank settlers living farthest from Israel’s boundaries are willing to leave their homes if fairly compensated, even without a peace agreement, a study showed.
            The report released today by Israel’s Blue White Future peace group focuses on 100,000 Israelis living outside larger settlement blocs. It excludes some 250,000 residents in the bigger settlements. The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, called the report “detached from reality” because the settler population keeps growing, Dani Dayan, the group’s chief foreign envoy, said in an e-mail….
            The number of settlers in the deep West Bank who would leave for compensation rises to 50 percent if a peace agreement is reached; 40 percent would refuse to leave.
            The survey of 501 settlers conducted in August had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. “

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Which bit of the following Benny doesn’t want to understand?
            ———
            Ok Bruce, let me teach you how grown ups analyze any story…

            First, they question their source. At best, the organization you mention is a wishful thinking naive group and their results too reflect their wishful thinking. The idea that as many as 30% would be willing to be bribed with pittance frankly just does not wash…

            Yes I say pittance because real analysis shows that the cost to Israel of evacuating 500,000 of us from Judea and Samaria into Israel would be so high that certainly the International community would not be willing to pay. And rightly so. Why should they?

            Yes Bruce, the costs would be prohibitive even if we would talk JUST in monetary terms. But what costs do we put on our security, eh Bruce?

            So, let’s see, even if a percentage (unlikely to be 30%) of those people were sucked in to indicate that they are willing to be bribed as you so gleefully put it, even then once reality dawns on those people, that number will shrink to near zero. Would there be some idiots left who would be willing to be bribed? Why of course, Bruce dear, take any group of people and you will find a percentage who are stupid. But since when are a people judged on the basis of a small number of idiots amongst them?
            ——
            Why do I get the feeling that it is easier to get through to a plank of wood than to get through to Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Posting it twice make it less unconvincing?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Hey Benny, I don’t care whether you are convinced or not.

            I posted it twice for the sake of sane people who may read your nonsense in which you ignored every point that I made, which is your normal habit. That is how I know that you are not here to conduct a serious dialogue. You are just here to spew propaganda.

            Reply to Comment