Thousands of African asylum seekers stage protest
Thousands of African asylum seekers during their recent protest Photo by AFP
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Israel grants group protection to asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, as it is bound to do by the Refugee Convention the state has signed. Group protection means that Israel cannot deport people whose lives would be in danger in their own country.

Many asylum seekers who applied for refugee status were told by the Interior Ministry that they didn’t need it, because they have group protection. Israel gave them a visa that enables them to stay in the country, but not to work in it.

However, in the underhanded, sneaky method adopted by the Interior Ministry, the state shut its eyes to the fact that the asylum seekers were working, and to their employers. Apparently the Interior Ministry also understood that without working and making a living, the asylum seekers’ presence would be even more problematic.

The requests from Eritreans to the Interior Ministry for refugee status were denied. In other countries such requests were treated differently. In 2008, for example, Britain granted asylum to about 80 percent of the applicants. Canada granted 95 percent of the requests. In Israel the asylum seekers continue to be under the state’s group protection.

Although the completion of the border fence prevented the entrance of more asylum seekers almost entirely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar continue to apply steamroller tactics to make the asylum seekers leave “voluntarily.” The pressure includes a ban on working, which turned them into a social problem; reducing their access to the Interior Ministry and building a detention center, to which they are transferred forcibly. The government also passed a law authorizing the state to keep them in the detention center for a long period of time, without judicial process. A previous version of this law was struck down unanimously by the High Court of Justice.

Sa’ar admitted on Tuesday that Israel has been flying refugees to third states and even boasted of the dramatic rise in the number of asylum seekers who have recently left Israel “voluntarily.”

The interior minister is not telling the public the truth. Only a few of the asylum seekers have asked for refugee status, because the Interior Ministry told the Sudanese and Eritreans they have no need of it, as they have group protection. The pressure on the asylum seekers is exerted not only in the prisons, but in the city centers and by the very authorities who are supposed to be looking after them.

Israel’s legal and moral conduct regarding the asylum seekers is riddled with flaws and failures. The government must protect the asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, as long as their return to their countries constitutes a risk to their lives. The attorney general must see to it that the government enables them to work for a living and to live as free people.