22,000 Ukrainian, Georgian refugees enter country via Internet scam

‘Taking advantage of Israel’s dysfunctional asylum policies,’ says report

A PLANE at Ben-Gurion International Airport. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A PLANE at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the government continues to demonize the 38,000 African asylum-seekers in Israel who fled war-torn Sudan and Eritrea, a recent report claims that more than 22,000 Ukrainian and Georgian refugees have fraudulently entered the country through human-trafficking scams.
The report, titled “Through Hidden Corridors: New trends in human trafficking which exploit the asylum system in Israel,” was compiled by the African advocacy NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.
On Monday, Sigal Rozen, public policy director for the NGO, said companies are charging large fees to Ukrainian and Georgian asylum- seekers via websites to arrange safe passage to Israel without being labeled “infiltrators,” like their African counterparts.
“What is happening is that Ukrainian and Georgian citizens are arriving as a result of publications in the Internet in their languages promising them the opportunity to get work permits easily in Israel for fees of thousands of shekels,” said Rozen.
“Since 2011, Ukrainian citizens have been exempt from submitting a prior request for an entry visa to Israel, which means they can enter the country with relative ease, getting a tourist visa for up to three months.”
Once applicants bypass border officials at Ben-Gurion Airport, Rozen said the companies falsely guarantee they will be able to obtain refugee status, pending approval of their asylum request, allowing them to work full-time, earning at least NIS 5,500 a month, and gain state benefits.
However, in 2016 alone, entry was refused to 5,700 Ukrainian citizens and 3,500 Georgians who were forced to return to their countries without any reimbursement from the companies that guaranteed them asylum.
Meanwhile, the 22,000 who fraudulently made it past border officials are forced to wait in long lines for days, weeks and even months to simply fill out the application at Tel Aviv’s Refugee Status Determination (RSD) office – and not one has been granted refugee status.
“As soon as they leave the airport, many literally sleep at the RSD office in terrible queues – even during the weekends – because their numbers have grown by the thousands and the office can only meet with 60 to 70 a day,” she said.
“So now, the companies are selling them fake ‘queue numbers’ for NIS 600 to get a better spot in the line. And because the asylum system in Israel is so slow, those who do apply can work for years until they are formally rejected and deported.”
However, Rozen said the Population and Immigration Authority has caught on to the scam, resulting in the number of Ukrainian and Georgian citizens arrested across Israel to rise dramatically, dwarfing the numbers of those who remain illegally.
As a result, the asylum-seekers are deported, forced to purchase return tickets, and lose up to NIS 10,000, which the companies refuse to refund.
In the meantime, the 22,000 who were able to apply for asylum can work for years via a 285 Conditional Release Visa until their application is even reviewed, which allows employers to hire them without paying a 20% fine, as is mandated for African asylum-seekers.
“This is a working scam that is taking advantage of Israel’s dysfunctional asylum policies,” said Rozen. “And the vast majority are at risk of being arrested and deported. We have shared this information with the police and other enforcement bodies and have a list of recommendations to fix this problem.”
Among its recommendations, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants has called on the Population and Immigration Authority to cancel the visa waiver that is currently in place for Ukrainian and Georgian citizens.
Additionally, Rozen said the Justice Ministry must prosecute the companies engaging in what she said amounts to human trafficking.
“As early as possible – under the auspices of either the Directors General Committee on the Struggle Against Human Trafficking, or the Office of the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator – a cross-ministry work plan should be formulated to deal with this phenomenon,” she said.