THE AFRICAN REFUGEE DEVELOPMENT CENTER (ARDC) AND A COALITION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS CONDEMNS THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT FOR ITS ACTIONS AGAINST REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS.
WE CALL ON YOU TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
January 2011—In recent months, political and community leaders have articulated increasing hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers living in Israel. In particular, we condemn the following elements of a broad reaching plan by the Israeli government to deter new arrivals on the basis that they deny asylum seekers their right to dignity and contravene Israel’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law:
§ the denial of the right to work for all asylum seekers holding renewable (2)A(5) visas
In late November, the Ministry of the Interior began to boldly mark on asylum seekers’ temporary visas that their status does not authorize them to work and this will be enforced once the proposed 'refugee camp' is operational. This policy will deny asylum seekers the opportunity to support themselves, increase the poverty level of the community and make them increasingly susceptible to the social consequences of poverty—violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and crime.
§ the opening of a refugee camp in the Negev-Naqab to confine 10,000 asylum seekers in a remote location where they will be held indefinitely and provided with only their basic needs
The facility presents a number of significant problems. First, it will inflict further psychological trauma particularly on children and youth. Secondly, without the right to work, the estimated 20,000 asylum seekers currently in Israel who will not be held in the facility will be at risk of homelessness. Thirdly, those held in detention will inevitably include children who were attending school and individuals who were enrolled in academic and other education institutions.
§ the construction of a security barrier along the Egyptian border which began in early December
We recognize that Israel has the right to defend its national sovereignty and protect its citizens. However, many thousands in need of protection and transiting through Egypt where they are still in danger will be denied the opportunity to apply for protection in Israel thus their lives will be endangered.
§ the amendments to the refugee status determination procedure and the Anti-Infiltration Law
We reject these measures on the grounds they are serve the sole purpose of limiting the rights of asylum seekers. Collectively these policies—primarily designed to discourage entry into Israel by presenting economic disincentives—will prove highly ineffective as they fail to address the issue at hand. Asylum seekers do not come to Israel seeking economic prosperity. Instead, they come to Israel in search of protection from persecution.
We, ARDC along with a coalition of other organizations and the undersigned individuals, call on the Israeli government to:
§ establish a comprehensive legal framework based on the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1967 Protocol and international refugee law and publish it in the interest of transparency and consistency;
§ commit to efficiently and fairly determining the claims of all asylum seekers by devoting resources and introducing procedural fairness;
§ ensure that the Israeli-Egyptian border is not procedurally closed to asylum seekers, who must be guaranteed access to the asylum process in Israel;
§ afford all asylum seekers with the basic right to dignity which includes reinstating the right to work pending the outcome of their application for protection and introducing the right to government-sponsored welfare and medical care;
§ when group protection is applied, in accordance with UNHCR recommendations, it should be official and afforded social and economic rights;
§ correct all procedural abnormalities in the refugee status determination process including providing the opportunity to appeal to the administrative court as opposed to the Ministry of Interior;
§ seek the advice of refugee and asylum seeker NGOs and the refugee population to develop a solution of what Israel realistically can and should do in accordance with international law;
§ cease incorrectly and deliberately referring to asylum seekers as ‘infiltrators’ and ‘economic migrants’; and
§ provide absorption facilities for recognised refugees.
FURTHER BACKGROUND INFORMATION
While the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution is a human right enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the State of Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, it is a right that it is not fully protected in Israel today. Israel often evades its international law obligations to refugees by refraining from recognizing them as such. Due to a systematic reluctance to recognize rights, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, only 141 individuals have been recognized as refugees in accordance with the Refugee Convention.
Individuals from certain countries of origin are granted an informal type of group protection, a form of protection that is inferior to that which Israel is required to grant pursuant to the Refugee Convention. For example, persons from Sudan and Eritrea, who constitute more than 85 per cent of the asylum seeker population in Israel, do not have access to the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedure. Others nationals who are eligible to apply for refugee status must wait years for their application to be determined and live in a prolonged state of limbo. One of the proposed amendments is that it will not be possible to apply for asylum after 12 months from date of arrival.
In Israel there are currently more than 30,000 asylum seekers and refugees. As mentioned, approximately 85 per cent are Sudanese and Eritrean nations who have escaped ethnic persecution and attack. They make the perilous journey crossing through the Egyptian Sinai desert to enter Israel and are at risk of deadly attacks by the Egyptian military and being held hostage by smugglers. Despite the fact that 96 per cent of asylum requests filed by Eritreans worldwide in 2008 were accepted, the Israeli government refuses to even consider their applications. Additionally, nationals of enemy states such as Sudan are also ineligible for protection. As a result, Eritrean and Sudanese individuals receive no entitlements or guarantees in Israel other than immunity from deportation.
We strongly reject Interior Minister's Yishai claim that only 0.01% of those entering are refugees while the rest are migrant workers and that this 'poses an existential threat to Israel'.