Why and how often countries refuse entry to foreign nationals

How distinctive is Israel’s refusal to allow Omar and Tlaib entrance to engage in hostile political activity? Hardly, based on UK comparison?

August 20, 2019 22:00
4 minute read.
U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel’s blanket refusal to allow first-term US congresswoman Ilhan Omar entry into Israel to visit the Palestinian Authority and the decision to allow Rashida Tlaib, her fellow first-term congresswoman, on condition that she restrict her visit to family matters has aroused considerable interest and controversy.

Yet, how distinctive is Israel’s decision comparatively?

To begin addressing the question, it is important to realize that restricting or refusing entrance to counties, or in the case of the European Union, a zone of various countries, is highly selective and discriminatory.

A look at the visa policy of the EU, probably the most committed actor to equal and fair treatment, demonstrates how discriminatory states are regarding who they allow into their borders. Nationals of only 62 countries and territories holding ordinary passports may enter the 26 countries comprising the EU’s Schengen Area without a visa. The region is named after a treaty that allows free movement within the European Union.

These states are overwhelmingly wealthy and inhabited by whites. Since there are 193 member states in the UN, this means that the nationals of only little more than a third of the states in the world can travel freely to the European Union. By contrast, the overwhelming majority of states whose nationals need visas are from the Third World. Among them are the two most populous – China and India.

Discrimination hardly ends there. Nationals of the majority of states who do require visas for entry into the union are hardly treated equally. According to EU data, nearly 10% of the 18 million visa applications granted are rejected. Yet this rejection rate is hardly uniform. The rejection rate for African states such as Nigeria is 49.8%, for Guinea 46.8% and for the troubled and poverty-stricken Democratic Republic of Congo 46% – over four times higher than the overall average and more than ten times higher than for nationals from Ukraine and Georgia, which are Christian states.

Neither are Arab-speaking states meted fair treatment. The rejection rate for Iraq is 47.8% and for Algeria, it’s 45.5%. This selectiveness even extends to the visa fees – $70 for an adult for most of these countries compared to $41 for nationals of Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, and Ukraine. Note that it is the nationals of the poorest countries that are burdened by visa fees.

Given the tense relations between the EU and Russia, this largesse on the part of the EU can hardly be due to political tensions or dangers but rather reflects from where the European Union prefers to encourage immigration.

Regarding restrictions or refusal of entry for political reasons, information is far more hard to come by. The EU does not provide data, and for the UK it is dated.

Yet even this data from the first decade of the new century clearly shows that the oldest liberal democracy has no qualms refusing entry to persons whose convictions and rhetoric might impact negatively on British national security.

This should be stressed because the people refused entry are not criminals who actively committed terrorist or criminal acts. Were they active terrorists, it would be incumbent upon the UK authorities to either extradite them to the countries where they committed such crimes, or, in the absence of judicial authorities applying the law at acceptable international standards of justice in such countries, to place the terrorists themselves on trial.

The names of two such persons refused entrance brings this point home – Moshe Feiglin and the late rabbi Meir Kahane. Neither had been tried in Israel for terrorist activities. Feiglin appeared on the list of 101 persons denied entrance into the UK between 2005-09.

Most of the people on the list, which includes nationals of a variety of counties ranging from the United States to Iran, were denied entrance on the grounds that they were “considered to be engaging in unacceptable behavior by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts, and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence,” in the words of a Home Office press release.
Though most of those on the list are clearly reprehensible characters (such as Louis Farrakhan or American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer) to a broad swath of the political spectrum from Left to Right in the United Kingdom and elsewhere – and they would elicit little protest except from bigots – the list also includes more “neutral” controversial people such as Julian Assange (before he was charged with sexual assault).

Regarding Omar and Tlaib, they clearly fit the bill of “seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence,” by their very decision to disregard Israelis and by their inflammatory rhetoric, which would flame already existing passions to harm Israelis.

This is especially true in light of the proportionality principle so often invoked in liberal states. The incidence of refusal of entrance must take into account the relative threat to national security. Terrorism is proportionately at least ten times greater in Israel than it is in the UK, measured either by its victims or the arrests of would-be perpetrators. Israel is therefore justified not only in refusing entrance to persons whose aim is to harm Israeli national security, but to employ it at higher levels than in other democratic states, of which the United Kingdom is certainly one of them.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are better off that Tlaib and Omar, who have remained in the United States – where they will hopefully work for their constituents rather than provoke violence in the Holy Land.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Related Content

September 21, 2019
Women's Middle East peacemaker promoter, now assisting Holocaust victims