US: Israel is not properly ensuring refugee rights

Annual Report on Human Rights notes lack of implementation of 1951 Refugee Convention; criticizes J'lem for not ensuring social rights.

Asylum seekers south Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Asylum seekers south Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel has dragged its feet in ensuring the rights of asylum seekers, the US State Department stated in a report issued last week.
The 2010 Annual Report on Human Rights states that Israel “has not enacted legislation implementing the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.”
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Countries who have signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, including Israel, agree not to return refugees to their countries of origin if they face the possibility of persecution or grave bodily harm. It also ensures that refugees not face legal penalties connected to the legality of their entry to the country and are ensured freedom of movement and the ability to work in their new country.
The report criticizes Israeli authorities for not ensuring social rights including medical treatment, education, and the ability to apply for citizenship to asylum-seekers. It also mentions the “hot return” to Egypt of nearly 150 African migrants in 2010, a decrease from the 517 who were returned to Egypt after crossing into Israel in 2008-2009.
The report bases most of its findings on data from NGOs dealing with issues relating to asylum-seekers and migrant workers in Israel. It quotes the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Law Clinic as saying that the Population Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA), the body responsible for asylum-seekers, has done a sub-par job of conducting interviews with asylum seekers meant to determine whether or not they can receive refugee status.
According to the report, during the meetings the PIBA “failed to provide asylum seekers copies of their interview transcripts or sufficient explanations of their determinations.”
The passage adds that “after an appeal by the Refugee Rights Law Clinic and other NGOs, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction mandating that asylum-seekers be accompanied by legal representatives in interviews, but the government continued to bar paralegals, and most asylum seekers could not afford counsel for hearings.”
While they aren’t part of any official government of Israel policy, the report also mentions acts of violence directed against African migrants over the past year, including the reported beating of two teenage daughters of African asylum-seekers by a mob of over 20 teens in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood on December 18 and the attempted arson of an apartment in Ashdod housing Sudanese asylum-seekers, which happened on the same day.
The report also states that over the past year in Israel “rhetoric by government officials and community protests concerning asylum-seekers also intensified,” citing a statement by MK Yaakov Katz (National Union), the head of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, who in March said that “infiltrators” could “ruin” Israel.
It also quotes Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s contention in July that “infiltrators” pose “an existential threat to Israel.”
The release of the report came about a week before Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-Israel) released a statement claiming that a few days earlier “a group of around 40 Eritrean asylumseekers, including 13 women, two of whom were with children – arrived to the Egyptian- Israeli border. According to testimonies, after they crossed to the Israeli side, the Israeli soldiers returned them to the Egyptian side, allowing only two women and their children in, leaving the husband of one behind.”
In late March, PHR-Israel reported that a group of 67 African migrants were returned to Sinai in February after infiltrating Israel.
Also in March, the Knesset passed in its first reading a bill which would apply harsh penalties for asylum-seekers who cross Israel’s southern border and Israelis who assist them.
The Bill for the Prevention of Infiltration, which passed its first reading 42-5, would allow the state to detain for up to three years migrants coming from regions where there are “activities that could endanger Israeli security.”
Under the bill, detainees would not have the right to a speedy trail and would receive official visits only once every three months. If they are convicted in a court of law, they could face up to five years in prison and those assisting them could face up to 15 years.
Outside the migrant issue, the State Department report determined that in Israel in 2010 “there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances” and “there were no government restrictions of academic freedom or cultural events.”
It also said that Israeli law “provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year, although impunity was not a problem.”