World Refugee Survey 2009: Israel
Israel hosted around 16,500 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan.
2008 Events Summary
During 2008, Israel returned at least 91 Eritreans and Sudanese to Egypt, which regularly returns asylum seekers and refugees to those countries. Advocates challenged these returns before the Supreme Court, but it made no decision by April 2009.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered nearly 7,500 new asylum seekers. Of those, nearly 3,000 were Eritrean and almost 2,200 were Sudanese. During the year, the Government granted temporary protection to between 9,000 and 11,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan.
At the end of 2008, Israel was detaining around 2,000 asylum seekers. During the year, detention times for asylum seekers averaged four months. UNHCR had full access to detainees.
Families in the detention camp outside Ketziot Prison are housed with men separate from women and children, and families must work with a social worker for visitation arrangements. The Interior Ministry and Internal Security Ministry have not yet issued regulations to unite family members in separate detention facilities.
In January, a group of five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel regarding the detention camp at Ketziot prison which held 1,000 asylum seekers including children and infants.
In January, the Interior Ministry announced it would issue work permits to all Eritreans in the country, ultimately issuing around 2,000. It announced in late February, however, that the permit holders could only work north of Hadera or south of Gedera.
In February, the Government announced plans to reinforce the fence along its border with Egypt and return any migrants intercepted there to Egypt.
In early February, the Interior Ministry’s Population Administration announced that the Israeli Defence Forces held 460 migrants.
By mid-February, roughly 400 asylum seekers whom Israel had released from detention were camping in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv. Around 400 Eritrean refugees gathered outside UN offices to seek refugee status.
In late February, the Prime Minister ordered authorities to deport illegal migrants and raids on Tel Aviv shelters followed, netting at least 200.
In April, a group of 45 refugees slept in a park for one week to draw attention to the refugee situation in Israel.
In June, the six-month work permits issued to refugees and asylum seekers in late 2007 expired and Israel did not renew them. The next month, it created the Authority for Immigration and Border Crossings within the Ministry of the Interior to deal with migrants.
In December, more than 500 Eritrean asylum seekers protested in Tel Aviv against the Government’s refusal to grant them refugee status.
Law and Policy
Israel is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, but has no refugee law. It maintains reservations to articles 8, 12, 28, and 30. In the absence of a refugee law, the Government and courts generally follow the precepts of the 1951 Convention. The Government gave Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers temporary protection rather than full refugee status.
There is no formal system for determining asylum cases, but UNHCR refers eligible applicants to an advisory body, the National Status Granting Body, which then makes a recommendation to the Ministry of the Interior, which makes the final decision. All Government decisions can be, and frequently are, appealed to the courts. The Government respects judicial decisions on refugee matters and treats them as binding. UNHCR began handing over refugee status determinations to the Government in 2009, and planned for the Government to perform them independently by September 2009.
Detention/Access to Courts
There is no formal framework governing the detention of asylum seekers, but Israel generally detains all new arrivals for the stated purpose of determining their identities and performing medical screenings. Detention times vary widely, and release often comes only with intervention from UNHCR or NGOs.
Israel allows UNHCR access to detainees. Detainees also have access to legal counsel, and the courts are an efficient venue for them to challenge their detention.
Prior to the most recent influx of asylum seekers from Africa, UNHCR had provided asylum seekers with a document attesting to their right to remain in the country. Israel replaced that document with a Government-issued conditional release document, which often imposes movement restrictions. Government agencies generally accept letters from UNHCR inviting a person to a refugee status determination interview or other appointment as a valid identity document. In a small but growing number of cases, the Government has refused to issue documents or issued them for an unreasonably short period.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The conditional release documents the Government issues often include movement restrictions that block holders from traveling to or living in prime employment areas. Officials arrest and detain those who travel into restricted areas.
Those the Government formally recognizes as refugees can obtain international travel documents with no restrictions, but others can only do so for purposes of resettlement or repatriation.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Israel generally does not issue work permits asylum seekers or those holding temporary protection. It does, however, generally tolerate their working in the informal sector.
Asylum seekers who have their passports or other forms of identification, including work permits, can open bank accounts.
Public Relief and Education
Israel does not provide assistance to asylum seekers, but does not prevent NGOs from doing so.
Children between five and fifteen years old who have resided in Israel for more than three months have the right to education regardless of their legal status, although the language barrier was problematic for many refugee children.
Back to World Refugee Survey: 2009 >>