Who are the asylum seekers?
The asylum-seeker community in Israel are often called, in the media or in public discourse, by different names.
Let’s make sense of the definitions and understand what each of them say:
The story of an asylum seeker in Israel
Legal status in Israel:
Even if they have presented a request to the Interior Ministry, asylum-seekers in Israel are not recognized as refugees. At just 0.06 percent, Israel’s rate of recognition of asylum seekers as refugees is among the lowest in the Western world. Most of the requests are not examined at all and some of them are rejected outright in shortened legal proceedings.
Until today only 13 Eritreans have been recognized as refugees, in contrast to around 70 percent in Europe. Most asylum-seekers in Israel hold temporary permits to remain that they have to renew every few months.
These permits do not grant them rights and they have been left without status for over 10 years. The only protection they have is against being returned to their country of origin, but they are not protected from deportation to a third country.
Unofficially, they are allowed to work even without receiving refugee status. But, without refugee status, they do not receive state health insurance, professional training or even a driving license.
Asylum-Seekers' Countries of Origin
Eritrea – Gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a long and difficult war of independence. One of the leaders of the struggle was General Isaias Afwerki, who has ruled the country ever since. The country is ruled by an uncompromising military regime that requires all of its citizens to serve in the military for their whole lives. There is no war in Eritrea and therefore the soldiers in the army mainly carry out community service for the state. The punishment for desertion is death or continuous imprisonment under difficult conditions. Opposing the regime is impossible; there is no opposition or free press and there is a wide-ranging spying network whose goal is to suppress any expression of opposition. Anyone who expresses criticism of the regime is liable to find himself send to jail without warning or trial, under terrible conditions.
Sudan – It received independence from Britain in 1956. The country is ethnically divided between Arab tribes in the north and African tribes in the south. Control of the country is in the hands of the Arab elites, who neglected and deprived the African tribes. Following independence, a civil war broke out between the north and the south, during the which the ruling authorities used brutal techniques such as blowing up villages. Since 2003 the fighting in Darfur has been defined as a genocide – the regime has armed civilian militias who have methodically massacred the tribes in the area, who have rebelled against government discrimination. In South Sudan there has been a conflict since the country received independence in 2012. Refugees have come to Israel from Darfur and South Sudan; when South Sudan became independent, the South Sudanese were expelled back to their country.
when a person fearing for his/her life escapes from his/her country to somewhere where s/he feels safe, s/he has the right, in accordance with the refugee conventions, to apply for asylum. If the request is accepted, s/he receives the status of refugee, granting him/her with rights and protection. In Israel a large majority of the asylum requests are not checked and therefore most asylum-seekers have been waiting for over a decade and have been left with the temporary status of asylum-seekers, leaving them essentially without any status.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, a refugee is someone who escaped his/her country of citizenship due to a real fear of persecution and an inability of his/her country of origin to protect him. This definition relates to the reason the person escaped their country of origin and does not relate to the way they entered the country where they requested protection and sanctuary. This means that the definition of a refugee according to international law does not match the Israeli legal definition, which defines asylum-seekers as infiltrators. Refugee status grants the right of family unification.
This is the official term used by the Interior Ministry to describe anyone who entered Israel illegally, i.e. infiltrated and crossed the border without going through an official border crossing. The 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was promulgated as an emergency regulation and aimed to prevent the penetration of hostile elements into the country. The law was amended in 2012 and determined that anyone who entered Israel without passing through a border crossing would be jailed for three years without trial, and anyone who granted them assistance would be jailed for five years. In doing so, the law bound together the fates of refugees and asylum-seekers with those of terrorists and saboteurs. The term infiltrator addresses the way in which the person entered the sheltering country but not the reason which led him/her to escape. Therefore, it does not meet the requirements of international law regarding the definition of a refugee.
They came to Israel with work visas in a particular field of work, as part of agreements between countries about quotas for foreign workers. For example: Thais who come to work in agriculture, Filipinos who work in care work etc.