Asylum-seekers arrive to Israel because they are persecuted in their countries of origin due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or their political opinion. They escape countries where genocide and ethnic cleansing take place, or where a dictatorial regime routinely violates human rights and from regions in a prolonged state of humanitarian catastrophe (a situation that exists, for example, in the camps of internally displaced persons in Darfur, Sudan). They escape murder, rape, torture, forced labor and prolonged detention without trial. Many of them have experienced horrors first hand and lost parents, children and siblings in terrible circumstances
Where do they come from?
Most asylum-seekers arrive to Israel from eastern Africa, mostly from Eritrea (73% of asylum-seekers in Israel) and Sudan (19%), and also from Congo, the Ivory Coast and other countries in western Africa. A small number of asylum-seekers arrive from Eastern Europe (FSU and Turkey) and Asia (Burma, Nepal, China) and Latin America (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador).
Eritrea is a closed-off dictatorship ruled with an iron first by one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Reporters Without Borders crowned Eritrea as the least free country in the world in terms of press freedom. Human Rights Organizations and a U.N. special rapporteur for Eritrea testify that Eritrea has become a “giant prison”.
Eritrea is a young country located at the end of the Horn of Africa, bordering on the Red Sea. In 1991, after 32 years of armed struggle, Eritrea won independence from its neighbor, Ethiopia. Eritrea has not held democratic elections since its founding. In 1998, a border dispute with Ethiopia devolved into a war that resulted in the death of thousands. Since then, the Eritrean President, Isaias Afewerki, has been leading a reign of terror. Eritrea has no independent civilian judiciary and citizens are subjected to the jurisdiction of military tribunals. Hundreds of dissidents, journalists and religious leaders have been detained years ago and have disappeared ever since. All independent media outlets were shut down in 2001. The only university in the country was closed in 2005, its students were shipped to military bases and Eritrea’s leading academics received asylum in the West.
High school students spend their last year in school at military barracks. Eritrea is involved in border conflicts with all of its neighbors: Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Yemen. All Eritreans must serve in the national service. Officially, the duration of the service in 18 months, but in effect, the service ends at the age of 40, 50 and even 55. While the official age of recruitment is 18, children have been abducted to serve in the army as well. Some Eritrean unaccompanied minors who have fled Eritrea and arrived in Israel were forcibly drafted at the age of 12 and 13. Women, who serve in the army just as men, often act as sex-slaves to their commanders who are allowed to rape them without consequences. Defectors from the army are arrested, tortured and at times murdered. Family members and even entire villages of defectors who successfully fled the forced labor in the army are harshly punished.
In addition to the thousands of detained defectors, about 10,000 people are detained without trial in Eritrea, many of them for their religious beliefs as Eritrea recognizes only four religions as legitimate: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam. The detainees are held in underground dungeons or closed containers in the desert, in deadly heat.
Eritrean asylum-seekers who’ve been deported (refouled) from Egypt, Malta, Libya, Sudan and Israel were arrested immediately and tortured or simply executed. Other countries uphold the UNHCR’s guidelines and do not deport asylum-seekers to Eritrea. In 2012, 81.9% of Eritreans whose asylum claims were examined worldwide received refugee status. In addition, 7.4% received complementary protection. (See table 11), In Israel, only three Eritrean asylum-seekers out of a community of 35,000 received refugee status to date.
Sudan, whose population includes members of many nationalities, tribes and religious groups, has been ruled since its independence in 1953 by Arab Muslims who are concentrated in the northern part of the country and the capital Khartoum. The overwhelming majority of refugees from Sudan who arrive in Israel are member of different African tribes who reside in Sudan’s periphery and are persecuted by the central government in Khartoum. In 2012, 68.2% of Sudanese asylum-seekers worldwide were granted refugees status and 3.6% more were offered complementary protection. (See table 11) Israel has granted 0 asylum-seekers from Sudan refugee status to date.
The conflict in Darfur, western Sudan, is between the Arab regime and African tribes and revolves around control of lands and struggles between nomads and farmers. The conflict is exacerbated by the harsh drought that has been afflicting eastern Africa in the last decades. The resistance to dispossession and local uprisings of the Fur residents (African Muslims) of Darfur against the Arab Muslim regime were punished by Arab militias, the Janjaweed, which enjoy the backing of the regime. The Janjaweed militias raid villages, burning them down, and commit acts of mass rape, kidnapping and slaughter. The Janjaweed raids were accompanied by bombings from the air by the Sudanese Air Force. The genocide in Darfur claimed the lives of about 300,000 people and displaced over 2.7 million people who are concentrated in refugees camps in Chad and IDP camps in Darfur. The camps are subjected to raids of Arab militias and are not protected by the regime, whose policy is also to prevent international humanitarian organizations from reaching the displaced. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant to Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir who stands accused of crimes against humanity, war crime and genocide in Darfur.
The area of Southern Kordofan, knows as the Nuba Mountains, is located in the south of the Republic of Sudan (northern Sudan), on the border with South Sudan. The inhabitants of the area, knows as the Nuba People, are a collection of non-Arab African tribes, some Christian and some Muslim.
In a response to the application of Sharia law (Islamic law) on the area in 1984, Nuba rebel groups were formed – with their final goal of toppling the regime and replacing it with a fair government that would not discriminate against its citizens. In response, the regime bombed villages from which the rebels hailed and subjected the Nuba Mountains to a siege. This policy, combined with the drought that affected the mountainous area at the time, resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people. The regime capitalized on the suffering of the Nuba and drove them into closed camps where they were given food, basic medical care but also forced Islamic education. Those who refused to convert to Islam were tortured and murdered. Many died of infectious diseases that spread in the camps.
Despite this extreme repression, the rebels refused to put down their guns and in response, in 1993, the regime launched a policy of mass extermination in the Nuba Mountains, without differentiating between Muslims and Christians. The regime prevented the entry of humanitarian aid to the area to the area until 2001. In the last decade of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Nuba people were murdered or starved to death.
The massacres and ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains were renewed by the regime in 2011 with aerial bombardments on villages and agricultural lands and massacres of Nuba civilians by regime-backed militias. As a result of the bombings, entire regions have been ethnically cleansed of Nuba people, tens of thousands were murdered and many others are in danger of starving to death as the regime prevents access to agricultural fields and does not allow humanitarian organizations to reach the area.