Human rights organizations: Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, call on the Israeli government to recognise and protect the needs and rights of asylum seekers in its territory. Israel is home to about 53,000 African asylum seekers. According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), 49,000 of them come from Eritrea and Sudan, countries where they would face – if returned – major human rights violations, including the risks of death and life imprisonment.
In a statement the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) claims that Israel has, in adherence to International Law, “granted protection” to these individuals. However, in reality this “protection” is nothing more than a suspension from deportation. Asylum seekers in Israel receive a “conditional release visa” which they must renew every few months and which only grants them the right to remain in the country until their deportation is possible. Meanwhile, they have no right to work, very limited access to medical or welfare services, and no housing, food or other assistance from the state.
While Israel has recently begun conducting Refugee Status Determination (RSD) for Sudanese and Eritreans, only 1,800 individual asylum requests have been registered, an opportunity that was only introduced in 2012, and of these only 250 have been examined to date. More shockingly, no Sudanese or Eritrean nationals has received refugee status, despite the fact that worldwide, 84.5% of Eritrean asylum seekers and 74% of Sudanese asylum seekers are granted refugee status or complementary protection.
The MFA claims that it balances the need to control its borders with the need to protect the human rights of those who enter. However, the entry of asylum seekers into the country almost entirely halted to less than 100 in 2013, following the construction of the border fence with Egypt. Meanwhile, the new Amendment to Israel’s Anti-Infiltration Law – passed in less than 90 days by the Knesset following the annulment of the previous 2012 amendment by the High Court of Justice – continues to blatantly violate the rights of asylum seekers. The Amendment allows for a one-year pre-trial detention period for asylum seekers who enter the country irregularly, after which they are transferred to an “open” facility run by the Israeli Prison Service. Asylum seekers have to participate in three roll-calls a day and must sleep in the camp. Missing a roll-call or working outside the facility is punishable by months of incarceration in the prisons for refugees, before they are returned to the “open” camp, which is effectively a detention centre.