Study: Two-thirds of Israelis say refugees are burden

Refugee welfare NGO releases figures which show that almost 60 percent of Israelis believe refugees are dangerous to society.

African migrant walks with suitcase in south Tel Aviv 370 (R (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
African migrant walks with suitcase in south Tel Aviv 370 (R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Some 68.8 percent of Israelis believe refugees are a burden on the country’s economy, according to a survey conducted by the Center for International Migration and Integration, an organization founded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and released ahead of Thursday’s World Refugee Day.
The survey, which sampled hundreds of Israelis, also revealed that 59.9% of the population believes the refugee community is dangerous for Israeli society and some 43% said they do not think the government should work to integrate children of refugees into the country’s school system.
The survey’s questions refer solely to “refugees,” though the survey’s press release makes mention of the broader population of asylum-seekers, “infiltrators” and illegal residents of Israel.
Asked whether it would bother them if refugee families were to move to their neighborhood, 55% of respondents answered that it would, while only 16.9% said they wouldn’t mind.
In terms of health, the majority of respondents said they believe that the rate of diseases among the refugee community is different from that of the general population.
In addition, some 54% of Israelis blame refugees for taking up jobs in the country, even though they would not be willing to work in those specific jobs themselves, which include security jobs, waitressing, porterage, cleaning and construction work, even if they were in financial distress.
On the other hand, when asked whether the government should deport refugees back to their homelands even if doing so presents a risk to their lives, the majority of respondents said it shouldn’t.
Some 35% also said they believe that Israel has a moral obligation to provide care and protection to refugees.
The chairman of CIMI, Arnon Mantver said he observes two trends emerging from the survey: “On the one hand, the Israeli public does not know the refugee population, so they are afraid of it and associate it with negative traits,” he explained. “On the other hand, the Israeli public also remembers the fact that in a not so distant past, we were ourselves refugees in distress, and therefore it is our moral duty to help the refugees.”
Oscar Olivier, an asylum-seeker from Congo who has lived in Israel for 19 years, said Monday that he has trouble believing the figures.
“These numbers are saying that most Israelis are xenophobic, and I don’t think this is the case. When my daughter was born in Hatikva [a neighborhood in south Tel Aviv] nine years ago, half of the street came to our house bearing gifts.”
Olivier said that while he doesn’t believe the findings are accurate, if Israelis do feel such sentiments toward asylum-seekers, it is because of demonization in the press and statements by politicians that have only worsened the situation.
“The allergy Israelis have developed toward Africans is from the politicians.
When they say they aren’t refugees, they’re infiltrators and they carry diseases, you think that will help the public agree to sit with them and be their neighbors? You think this helps relations?” Mantver stressed that CIMI staff works all year round to mitigate tensions between refugees and the rest of the population.
To mark World Refugee Day on Thursday, the organization will hold special events in municipalities with high concentrations of refugees, asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants, such as Beersheba, where activities aimed at bringing Ben-Gurion University students and refugees together will take place.
In Jerusalem, residents will be invited to an African dinner in the company of dozens of refugees, who will share their personal stories with participants.
According to figures released by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority last month, some 161,044 refugees, asylum-seekers and undocumented people reside in Israel today.