A First: UN Committee Discusses Rights of Asylum Seekers in Israel

The 66th session of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), one of the most important UN committees, took place last month. During this session, for the first time the committee demanded explanations from Israel concerning its shameful policy regarding African asylum seekers.

African asylum seekers demonstrate in Tel Aviv against deportation, June 2018; the large banner in Hebrew reads "Against Deportation."

African asylum seekers demonstrate in Tel Aviv against deportation, June 2018; the large banner in Hebrew reads “Against Deportation.” (Photo: ASSAF)

Tali Ehrenthal, Executive Director of ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, was invited to speak before the Committee about the status of civil rights for asylum seekers in Israel. She spoke about the limbo in which asylum seekers are caught under Israel’s “temporary” protection policy, the improbability of receiving refugee status, and the lack of access to basic rights.

Ehrenthal told the committee about people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as victims of torture, who are unable to work and often find themselves living on the streets; she talked about women, victims of domestic violence who do not receive assistance; she informed the committee about the asylum seeking families’ decline into poverty due to the Deposit Law (see related links below), and about the growing requests for humanitarian aid from ASSAF.

“There are around 30,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. They have been living under a minimal protection policy for over a decade. They are protected from deportation to their home countries, but have only temporary “conditional release” status; they are not eligible for social security, public health care services or public social services, except for emergencies, and their right to work is indeterminate and limited. This has been the situation since 2006,” she said.

According to Ehrenthal, “We have accepted the UN Committee’s invitation in order to demand that the State of Israel abandon this deliberately cruel policy, and begin to safeguard and the economic and social rights of asylum seekers. This social crime must be stopped. It is a matter of common sense, and of basic human rights.”