Human rights groups slam state on refugee statements

Report claims gov't lied to public about threat of infiltrators from Africa in effort to deny Sudanese asylum seekers sanctuary.

By BY RON FRIEDMAN
February 3, 2010 11:31
Sudanese refugees in Israel are the subject of a r

sudan refugees 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Human rights organizations accused the government of lying to the public about the threat of infiltrators from Africa in an effort to prevent Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers from obtaining sanctuary in Israel. A coalition of the organizations held a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and presented a report, which they say exposes the government’s lies.

The report was prepared by nine groups in advance of a Knesset debate on the infiltration protection bill scheduled for Wednesday. The participating organizations – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Amnesty-Israel, ASAF, the Migrant Workers Hotline, the African Refugees Development Center, the Israel Religious Action Center, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – warn that the new law means that Israel would be backing out of its obligations to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, incarcerating innocent refugees or deporting them to countries where their lives will be at risk and criminalizing those who aid asylum seekers.

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The chief accusation in the report is that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other ministers speak in “two voices.”

The report states that while government officials repeatedly told the public that a vast majority of the asylum seekers are not refugees, but rather labor migrants, they have told the international community a different story.

The report also states that documents produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which are based on official numbers that the government provides, show that as of 2009, 90.4 percent of the asylum seekers were indeed refugees from Sudan and Eritrea.

The report further claims that the government regularly inflates the security and demographic threat posed by asylum seekers. It quotes Netanyahu saying two weeks ago that “Israel will not allow its borders to be flooded by illegal foreign workers.”

The coalition also claims in their report that Netanyahu and other ministers are being disingenuous when alluding to both the numbers of asylum seekers waiting to cross over the border and the security risk they pose. The report states that the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country are actually in decline and that not a single asylum seeker has ever been charged with conducting terrorist activities.



The report also points out what they see as the government’s hypocrisy in blaming the asylum seekers for contributing to a demographic shift in Israel’s population. The report shows that in 2009 the Netanyahu government allowed permits for 120,000 foreign workers, 25 times the number of asylum seekers who entered Israel through Egypt.

The report also states that as opposed to what government officials tell the public, most refugees don’t wish to stay in Israel indefinitely and that the only reason many stay is because the state fails to examine their refugee appeals and leaves them in statutory limbo.

“Since the establishment of the state,” the report reads, “Israel has recognized 190 people as refugees. More than 100 of them, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights, are no longer here.

“Many western countries have quotas for receiving refugees and migrants... Unlike Israel, they understand their international obligations and invest resources in absorbing refugees. By failing to examine the asylum requests of Eritrean and Sudanese citizens, Israel prevents them from immigrating to other countries where many of their relatives have already gained citizenship,” read the report.

The infiltration protection bill, which the report opposes, was submitted by the Defense Ministry in 2008 in order to replace the 1954 Infiltration Law and augment the Israel Entrance Law. The bill passed first reading in the former Knesset seating and is set to be passed in full in the current seating.


“The infiltration prevention bill is a foolish attempt to turn a humanitarian issue into a security and demographic issue. The facts speak for themselves. The ‘infiltrators’ are not the 21st century version of the ‘fedayeen.’ They are refugees from war and genocide, and victims of totalitarian regimes that torture their citizens. They do not constitute a security threat,” the report continues. “The ‘flood’ of migrants is not coming from the Egyptian border, but rather from Ben-Gurion International Airport, sponsored by the Israeli government and the ‘revolving door’ policy, which it is responsible for. The obligation to defend the country’s security can be found in existing legislation.”

Among other things, if passed, the law would approve five-year prison sentences for people who enter the country illegally and seven years if they are from “enemy states” like Sudan. The law would also allow the imprisonment for five years of anyone caught aiding and abetting infiltrators.

“It is true that about 90% of the people who crossed the border between Egypt and Israel illegally are from Sudan and Eritrea, but to say that because of that they are refugees is nonsense,” said the population and immigration authority’s legal adviser Daniel Solomon in response to the report. “Sudanese and Eritrean nationals, once their citizenship is established, receive temporary protection. Israel does not return them to their country of origin, but they are not recognized as refugees.”

Solomon explained that once the asylum seekers from those countries’ nationalities are confirmed and they are released from state holding, they are automatically given permits that allow them to stay in the country. The asylum seekers then enter a status determining process at the Interior Ministry, which will decide whether they are entitled to refugee status.

“The great numbers of requests means that the committee in charge of status determination cannot operate on an individual basis and that’s why many of the people don’t have a formal status,” said Solomon. “But none of them will be deported until their treatment is concluded.”

In response to the report, the Interior Ministry said, “Every sanctuary request submitted by illegal aliens, whether they are infiltrators or labor migrants, is examined thoroughly... Since the establishment of the Refugee Status Determination Unit in July 2009, 1,400 refugee claims were submitted and none of the applicants met the definition of a refugee.”

The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment directly on the report.

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