African migrants protest in Tel Aviv, January 6..
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Before determining policy for dealing with illegal infiltration into Israel, we
must first acknowledge a few facts.
First and foremost, we must
understand that the majority of infiltrators are coming from Eritrea and Sudan,
and do not meet the criteria for refugee status according to the UN Convention
relating to the Status of Refugees. Most of them, including people who passed
through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explicitly stated upon
arrival that they had come to Israel in search of work. (A minimum-wage salary
for one month in Israel is the same as the average salary for three years’ work
in Eritrea.) Additionally, according to UN figures, 85 percent of infiltrators
to Israel are young men, which is a distinct characteristic of economic
migrants, as opposed to refugees, who typically flee for their lives together
with their families. Note that the EU recognizes only 30% of asylum claims by
Eritreans and Sudanese; some countries recognize more than this, and some don’t
recognize any at all.
The second fact is that all infiltrators to Israel
have passed through at least one other country in which there was an active
branch of the UNHCR, and have paid huge sums of money to reach the Israeli
border. Article 31 of the UN charter explicitly states that the rights
enumerated in it should be awarded only to refugees who come directly from the
country in which they were being persecuted.
A third and no less
important fact is that in recent years Israel has absorbed more illegal
immigrants than any other country in the EU in absolute numbers.
we consider the numbers as a percentage of Israel’s population, the picture is
much more extreme. For example, in 2011, Israel absorbed 10 times as many
infiltrators as France, 20 times as many as Italy and 100 times as many as
We’re talking about a critical mass of people that Israel cannot –
and certainly is not obligated to – absorb and grant legal residence
Despite all of the above and the fact that many infiltrators are not
eligible for refugee status, Israel has refrained from forcibly returning them
to their home countries. The case of infiltrators from Sudan is unique since
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the country and therefore
technically has no way to send Sudanese citizens back home. On the other hand,
Israel has full diplomatic relations with Eritrea, but is not willing to take
responsibility for migrants’ safety if they are forcibly returned.
the reasons for this is that onethird of that country’s GDP comes from money
sent back by migrants, and the immunity that Eritrean immigrants enjoy in
Western countries thus serves the interests of the current regime.
WHAT should we do? Although the infiltrators cannot be sent back home by force,
the majority of them would not be in danger if they were to return of their own
will via a third country.
But not one single infiltrator will leave
Israel of his own volition when he knows there is the possibility of finding
Therefore, the government policy that calls for the
establishment of facilities to house and provide for the basic needs of
infiltrators while their eligibility for asylum is being checked in a reasonable
amount of time, but without permitting them to work, is an extremely important
and necessary step in the right direction. This policy has proven its efficacy,
both from the drastic reduction in new arrivals of infiltrators into Israel and
by the large number of infiltrators who returned to Eritrea and Sudan last year;
2,000 left Israel in 2013, including 300 in December alone.
demonstrations we witnessed this week only prove that protesters are not seeking
asylum, but the right to work in Israel and to eventually receive permanent
residential status. No one is disputing the fact that Israel should not forcibly
return people whose lives are in danger and should protect them, but
unfortunately, sometimes the leaders of “humanitarian” groups use the African
infiltrators’ cause to advance radical political agendas.
This not only
harms citizens of the State of Israel, but first and foremost hurts the chances
that the real refugees, who are being swallowed up in the huge mass of illegal
infiltrators receiving the aid they need.
I believe these protests will
have the opposite effect on the Israeli public than their organizers intended.
For the first time Israelis are being exposed to the intensity of this problem,
on live TV. Most Israelis are not going to be convinced by thousands of young
men, sans families, proclaiming slogans prepared ahead of time for the cameras
about how wretched their lives are as refugees. We need to hope that the
government will not give in to the economic infiltrators and will continue
making great efforts to return law and order to the cities of Israel, and
promote appropriate and sane immigration policies for the State of
Israel.The writer is director of PR and communications at the Israeli
Immigration Policy Center.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.