US criticizes Israeli approach to asylum seekers

Report on human rights practices flags officials' use of negative terms to describe asylum seekers, discrimination.

Asylum seekers south Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Asylum seekers south Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Amid rising tensions over the issue of African migrants in Israel, the United States criticized aspects of the government's treatment of asylum seekers, in a State Department report released Thursday.
The report, entitled 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, stated that though the government has ceased the practice of immediately returning African asylum seekers arriving via Egypt, it "continued to deny many asylum seekers individual refugee status determinations, which impacted their ability to work or receive basic social services, including health care."
The reports says that Israeli law allows most asylum seekers access to temporary asylum, however, refers to complaints regarding accessibility to the system and reports of discrimination.
Citing United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, the report says that out of 4,603 new asylum applications submitted during 2011, the government rejected 3,692, approved one and 6,412 remained pending.
The US also viewed negatively government officials' use of the term "infiltrators" to refer to asylum seekers, as well as officials who directly associated asylum seekers with the rise in crime, disease and terrorism. Interior Minister Eli Yishai was specifically flagged as an instigator.
Meanwhile, as the report was released, Yishai reiterated his views, telling channel 10 that "all infiltrators must be imprisoned, with no exceptions," and that the state must transmit a message to them all, that Israel does not accept them.
On Wednesday night, violent disturbances against African migrants in south Tel Aviv reached unprecedented levels, resulting in the arrest of 17 local residents for assaulting migrants, attacking police and looting storefronts belonging to Africans.