Over the last ten years, some 60 000 individuals have crossed Israeli border from Africa to seek refuge from persecutions, wars, and slavery. Coming mostly from Eritrea, and Sudan, they have crossed the Sinai Peninsula, often undergoing human trafficking and torture and severe violence en route to Israel.
Unfortunately, their hardships do not stop once their crossed the border. Many are sent to Holot, a detention facility in the Negev desert, or left to themselves in impoverished neighborhoods. In order for their status as refugees to be recognised, they have to go through a long legal and administrative process by which the government determines whether the person seeking international protection is considered a refugee under international law.
This process is referred to as Refugee Status Determination, or RSD. During the RSD, asylum seekers are requested to renew their visas every 1-3 months, a time-consuming and costly procedure for them, as it requires them to take days off work in order to queue for an indeterminate period of time in front of overwhelmed administrations. What’s more, this severe procedure seldom leeds to results. Indeed, entire groups of people are simply never given answers to, such us Darfuris, Eritrean or Pentecostals.
By the same token, the intricacies of the procedure and the delay with which the Israeli administration is dealing with their files lengthens the period of vulnerability for the migrants. Indeed, as long as the file is not yet submitted, or even when it has but the enquirer is still waiting for an answer from the part of the administration, or when the rights to refugee status has been denied, there is a window of opportunity to deport the asylum seekers forcefully.
The difficulties and sacrifices demanded by this procedure coupled with its inefficiency to deliver refugee status has led many eligible individuals to not even attempt to submit a RSD claim.
Until now, the state had employed various tactics to encourage asylum seekers to ‘volunteer’ to leave, by hardening their living condition in Israel through regular detention, limited access to medical care, withholding 20% of their wages, while offering them a free one-way-ticket to a third country where they were promised to encounter a brighter future.
This situation is unfortunately only worsening, as the Israeli government recently announced its scheme to raise deportation numbers. The proposal adopted by the Knesset last Monday (18th of December) maintains the closing down of Holot within the next three months, as well as reiterating the Government's’ commitment to planned mass deportations of African migrants to Rwanda and Uganda.
The plan, introduced by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, also forbids migrants from removing funds from the country, as well as putting on them geographic limitations, such us the prohibition to live and work in certain cities).
As noted by The Times of Israel, the government plan has been criticized by Amnesty International and the UN refugee agency: ‘The rights group argued last month the “geographic limits” could effectively deprive the migrants of health and welfare services, as it allows the interior minister to ban them from Tel Aviv — the only city where those services are provided.’
One could wonder about the asylum seekers’ safety as they are being sent from Israel to Uganda or Rwanda. Numerous testimonies have been recorded of individuals having been arrested upon arrival, asked for bribes or encountering problems when accessing the asylum process due to a lack of documentation. Those deported to Rwanda were forced to flee the country within hours or days, while those deported to Uganda never received the status and protection they were promised by Israel. Those conditions can only lead to individuals wanting to flee, once again, to a safer place, embarking yet again on a new and perilous journey.