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Seeking Asylum in Israel

There are tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. Israel cannot deport nationals from those countries, but is pursuing a string of measures to stop new arrivals and encourage those already here to leave. +972 tracks the developments and challenges faced by a status-less community under increasing pressure. 

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  • Israeli teachers to education minister: 'Stop deportation of asylum seekers'

    Over 140 teachers sign an open letter calling to stop the deportation of asylum seekers. Meanwhile, former education ministers and Israel Prize winners warn against an 'injustice that contradicts Jewish values.' By Yael Marom Over 140 teachers signed an open letter calling on the government to change its decision to deport the asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. Another 190 leaders in Israel’s education system, including former education ministers, also published a letter calling on Education Minister Naftali Bennet to intervene and stop the deportations. In the teachers’ letter, addressed to the prime minister, the education minister, and members of the governing coalition,…

  • Following protest, Interior Ministry refuses to accept asylum requests

    Activists splashed red paint and left mannequin heads at the entrance to the Population and Immigration Authority's office in Tel Aviv. The Interior Ministry decided to collectively punish the asylum seekers in response. The Israeli Interior Ministry said it was refusing to process any asylum claims Sunday morning as a collective punishment of sorts in response to a protest action against the planned deportation of tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. [tmwinpost] Unknown activists spilled red paint and left mannequin heads Saturday night at the entrance to the Tel Aviv office of the Population and Immigration Authority’s…

  • When the Sultan took in Jewish refugees

    Bayezid II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, saved my family's life during the Spanish Inquisition. The Israeli government could learn a thing or two from him. By Tom Pessah I am a Jew of Sephardic origin, which means the defining moment of my family's history was their expulsion from Spain in 1492. I still have relatives who speak Ladino, the Jewish language that evolved out of medieval Spanish and was preserved in the countries the Jews arrived in. We have our own dietary customs and liturgical traditions. [tmwinpost] For years, I only heard about the villains in this story — Ferdinand…

  • Asylum seekers to Israel's president: 'Look us in the eyes'

    Israel plans to begin deporting tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in the coming months. Hundreds gather outside the President's Residence in Jerusalem, hoping to tell him their stories. By Yael Marom Several hundred asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan demonstrated in front of Israeli President Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem Monday night, calling on him to stop planned mass deportations. The asylum seekers, including many women and children, were joined by dozens of Jewish Israelis, among them several Holocaust survivors. [tmwinpost] The demonstrators chanted “we are refugees,” “refugees don’t deport refugees,” and “the deportations are a…

  • Thousands of asylum seekers protest deportation outside Rwandan embassy

    The demonstration, held by African asylum seekers, Israelis, and international activists, marks the opening of a new front in the struggle against the deportation.  Approximately 2,000 asylum seekers demonstrated outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya on Monday against the Israeli government’s plan to deport them. The demonstrators, joined by Israeli and international human rights activists, chanted “We are Eritrean, we are not Rwandan” and “refugees are not for sale.” [tmwinpost] “Israel must check our asylum requests and provide us protection,” the organizers of the protest said. “We are demanding that the Rwandan embassy oppose any agreements with Israel.” The protest…

  • 'I won't fly refugees to their deaths': The El Al pilots resisting deportation

    At least three pilots for Israel's flag carrier publish declarations publicly refusing to take part in the forced deportation of asylum seekers should they be asked to. The Israeli government is giving tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers a stark choice: deportation or indefinite imprisonment. By Yael Marom At least three El Al pilots in recent days published public declarations of their refusal to take part in the deportation of asylum seekers to countries where their lives may be in danger. Captain Yoel Piterbarg, a pilot on Israel's national airline, wrote the following on Facebook (Hebrew): Israel is populated…

  • Refugees hold 'slave auction' outside Knesset to protest deportation

    Israel plans to begin deporting tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers within weeks. Activists hope the action will raise awareness of what awaits them. By Oren Ziv A group of Eritrean asylum seekers and Israeli refugee advocates staged a mock slave auction outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, while a conference on government plans to begin mass deportations of asylum seekers took place inside Wednesday morning. [tmwinpost] Around 10 asylum seekers stood on make-shift auction blocks made of milk crates, while an auctioneer called out, “get your slaves, slaves for half price,” over a megaphone. A single member…

  • It is our silence that allows Israel to deport asylum seekers

    Fifty years on, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words resonate more than ever: those who are silent are all part of the problem. It is they who have allowed Israel to neglect south Tel Aviv and to condemn asylum seekers to torture and death. By Sapir Sluzker-Amram On January 15, Americans observed Martin Luther King Day, marking 50 years since the civil rights leader was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. The struggle for equal rights in the United States was not won in court but in the streets — by people who had had enough of the status quo and organized to effect change. In 1965, the…

  • Asylum seekers in Israel are scared. I am scared for them

    For years, Israel's right-wing government has fomented hatred against African asylum seekers. Now it plans to deport them, while the world turns a blind eye. By Leah Platkin As a social worker working with African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, I have seen my fair share of racism and hostility from Israeli politicians and local residents who blame them for the myriad problems in their neighborhoods. South Tel Aviv has always been a rough area, however, long neglected by the municipality. Walking through its neighborhoods, you see piles of trash, junkies, homeless people living in the parks, and a stench…

  • The new 'choice' for asylum seekers: Deportation or prison

    Israel finally plans to close its desert detention facility for African asylum seekers. Refugee advocates worry it could be the start of something even worse. During a midnight vote on Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that will enable the government to detain asylum seekers indefinitely or deport them to an unspecified country in Africa. The law passed by a margin of 71 to 41. [tmwinpost] The consequences of the law will stem not only from what appears in the text of the bill itself, but also what doesn’t: there is nothing in the bill that mentions deportation. Instead, on…

  • Why is Israel refusing to teach African asylum seekers Hebrew?

    Israel’s ‘Holot’ detention facility for asylum seekers, which is intended to rob them of so much hope that they’ll leave the country, refuses to provide Hebrew lessons as part of its education program for detainees. The result is empty classrooms and a parallel, asylum seeker-run program. By Omri Du-Nour Israel’s desert detention facility for asylum seekers, “Holot,” has been controversial ever since it was first opened four years ago. The primary aim of the facility, as declared by then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who initiated its construction, was to drive African asylum seekers to a state of despair, so that they…

  • 10 must-read articles for World Refugee Day

    A selection of articles and stories about asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on the occasion of World Refugee Day. (Full disclosure, I couldn't include just 10) It has been more than a decade since refugees from Darfur first began making the dangerous journey across the Sinai desert in order to seek asylum in Israel. Since those early years, Israeli society and successive Israeli governments have become increasingly hostile toward the asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere who sought safety and dignity in the country. On the occasion of World Refugee Day, here is a selection of articles about…

  • PHOTOS: Thousands protest law punishing African asylum seekers

    African asylum seekers march through central Tel Aviv to protest a law that deducts 20 percent of their wages. Photos by Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org Over 3,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers marched through central Tel Aviv Saturday night against a new law that docks 20 percent of their salaries, which will be repaid only when they leave the country. Marching alongside Israeli activists, business owners who employ asylum seekers, and residents of south Tel Aviv, the protesters chanted "We are refugees — not slaves!" as they walked through Rothschild Boulevard, the city's main thoroughfare. The members of Knesset behind…