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US State Department: “Treatment of Asylum Seekers is One of the most Significant Human Rights Problems in Israel”

The US State Department Human Rights yearly report for 2014 published on Thursday (June 25) stated that the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants is “among the most significant human rights problems in Israel”. The report addressed a few major issues regarding the lives of asylum seekers in Israel, including detention, problematic access to asylum, and the refoulement arrangement to third countries.

Detention of Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons
The report addresses the third amendment to the “Prevention of Infiltration” law, passed on December 2014 that allows the detention of asylum seekers, in spite of two rulings of the High Court of Justice that struck down the two previous amendments. “The amended law limits detention time in Holot to 20 months, while allowing for new asylum seekers to be initially placed in Saharonim prison for up to three months”. The report also referred to the fact that the two previous verdicts of the High Court “challenged the government’s assumption that most irregular migrants entered the country for economic reasons, noting the harsh conditions in Eritrea and Sudan, the two main countries of origin, and cited the government’s practice of not enforcing repatriation to those countries”.

Problematic Access to Asylum
The report stated that the Ministry of Interior concluded the examination of only 453 of the 2,841 asylum requests filed as of March by 1,468 Eritreans and 1,373 Sudanese. “The Ministry of Interior began processing asylum applications of Eritreans and Sudanese in detention during the year. The ministry continued to reject the applications of almost all Eritrean detainees, concluding that military desertion provided insufficient grounds for presenting a subjective fear of persecution and disregarding further evidence presented on conditions in Eritrea should individuals return… The government only approved refugee status for two Eritreans (the world wide rate for protective or refugee status is 90 percent). Authorities have not granted asylum or refugee status to any Sudanese… Government officials and media outlets periodically referred to asylum seekers as “infiltrators” and characterized them as directly associated with increases in crime, disease, and vagrancy”.

The report mentioned that “The government continued a policy of encouraging the return of detainees and other migrants or asylum seekers to the migrant or asylum seeker’s home country or, if that destination was unsafe, another foreign country. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants reported approximately 6,000 irregular migrants and asylum seekers departed the country through the voluntary return program–5,000 Sudanese during the year alone, according to HRW–and more than half of all those remaining in country registered to leave. Most returnees were sent to Uganda or Rwanda, although their governments did not provide assurances of legal residency or the right to work, and the Israeli government did not confirm the existence of official agreements with these governments to accept migrants or asylum seekers”.