The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA)
released new regulations on Monday for the handling of
The regulations, which are being made public for the
first time, outline the process through which a foreign subject can apply for
state protection and refugee status, and aid in distinguishing between people
filing genuine asylum claims and those applying for state protection in order to
remain in Israel for financial reasons.
The 20-page paper, which
describes in detail the bureaucratic path from infiltrator to refugee, was
produced by a joint committee made up of representatives from a variety of state
agencies, including the Justice, Interior and Foreign ministries. The
regulations were written taking into account Israel’s commitments to
international treaties on refugees, as well as the rapidly growing number of
asylum-seekers asking for Israel’s protection.
The new regulations will go
into effect on January 2 and do not require additional legislation or cabinet
“The new regulations replace existing regulations, penned
several years ago by former attorney-general [Menahem] Mazuz,” said PIBA legal
counsel Daniel Solomon.
“They have been updated to reflect two new
realities: one, Israel’s taking over responsibility of handling asylum requests
from the United Nations a year and a half ago, and two, the growing phenomenon
of illegal infiltration across the Egyptian border.
“Currently the way
the system works is slow and inefficient,” he explained. “The large numbers of
applications mean that applicants often wait for months for their requests to be
processed, all the time enjoying state protection and the ability to reside and
work in Israel, many of them clearly without cause.”
Solomon said the new
regulations made the entire process quicker and greatly increased the state’s
ability to reject applications out of hand.
“Under the current
regulations, for example, a foreign worker from Thailand could file for
protection, claiming asylum for political reasons.
Though the claim is
clearly fictitious, it would go through the entire process, clogging the system
and allowing the worker to remain here for months while waiting for the answer.
Under the new regulations, the claim could be immediately rejected by a PIBA
official,” he said.
Solomon estimated that nearly 50 percent of asylum
claims could be rejected on the spot under the new regulations.
the new regulations also offered increased transparency for the asylum-seeking
process, stating in which cases applicants could be accompanied by a lawyer,
which documents the state was required to share with the applicants and when the
use of an interpreter was required. When asked if PIBA had the manpower to
operate under the new regulations, Solomon said that the existing personnel
would be augmented to better meet the requirements.
The regulations were
greeted with disdain in human rights circles, which characterized them as a “fig
leaf” for the government’s lack of a human rights policy.
legal counsel for the Migrant Workers Hotline, said that the new regulations
were nothing but a tool to enable the state to deport asylum-seekers and showed
no concern for human rights.
“The main difference between these
regulations and the previous ones is that these ones have been made public. The
old regulations were completely inaccessible to the public,” said
“From an initial reading of the new regulations I can tell that
they enshrine the way things currently operate, and as we know, the current
state is far from satisfactory and fails to meet Israel’s human rights
commitments on many levels,” continued Feller.
“One thing that blatantly
stands out is that the regulations offer extensive powers to interior ministry
clerks, especially when it comes to refusing applications out of hand,” he went
on. “These regulations provide exceptional decision- making authority to state
officials, unlike any other country in the world. This is especially worrying
because of the legal weight that the regulations carry.
“We have to
remember that these are only internal regulations,” he pointed out. “They are
not enshrined in legislation. They are even less committing than a ministerial
decree. Yet they have the power to condemn people to deportation and potentially
torture and death.”
Another major problem Feller identified in the
regulations was that they didn’t address the issue of collective protection for
people from countries identified as conflict zones.
“A majority of the
asylum-seekers, nearly 90 percent, are people who came from Sudan and Eritrea.
These people by definition cannot be expelled or turned away from Israel because
they come from places that are internationally recognized as conflict zones, yet
the regulations don’t even mention their rights for state protection,” he
While the regulations do not mention Sudan per se, they do state
that Israel has the right to automatically refuse asylum to people who come from
enemy states, a list that presumably includes Sudan.
Solomon said that
the issue of Sudanese asylum-seekers had yet to be established, but Feller said
the clause was ludicrous.
“The clause on refusing subjects of enemy
states is ridiculous. It suggests that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.’ These are
people who are fleeing torture and war at the hands of their own government, and
Israel proposes to reject them for their nationality,” said Feller.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel, William
Tall, said that his office was still studying the details of the regulations,
but that it had submitted 12 pages of comments on the regulations’ draft
proposal and expressed hope that its comments had been taken into
“Our main concerns are about the out-of-hand refusals. We
appreciate that Israel wants a short and efficient process, but we need to make
sure that it is also a fair one,” said Tall.
Tall said he was aware that
Israel, like many other countries, was concerned that people were abusing the
process in order to gain additional license to stay in the country, but that all
efforts had to be made to honor human rights.
A new human rights group
called Anu Plitim (We Are Refugees) has begun spreading posters around Tel Aviv,
calling for public action to aid the African migrants. The group, founded this
year to provide free legal assistance to asylum-seekers, began its campaign on
Friday at the annual human rights march.
Its posters call out against use
of the term “infiltrators” to describe the migrants seeking asylum in Israel.
The group printed a series of posters and stickers reading, “Call your
grandfather an infiltrator” or “Asking for asylum – receiving prison,” all
equating the plight of the migrants to that of post-World War II Jewish
“The characterization of refugees as infiltrators is a racist
and demagogic tool used by the establishment to incite against the African
migrants. It is wrong to delegitimize a whole group of ill-fated people, who
only want refuge, because of the way they entered the country,” said Shira Penn,
the group’s director- general, referring to the illegal Jewish immigration to
“Many of our grandparents entered the country in a way
that today would have been considered infiltration, aboard Ha’apala ships,” she
asserted. “Only three generations ago we ourselves were refugees. Have we
forgotten the lessons so quickly?”