After Touting His Concern for the 'Invisible,' Israeli Interior Minister Continues to Abuse Refugees

The solution is not to be found in building more facilities like Holot, like Minister Dery suggests. It's in giving asylum seekers real protection.

Arye Dery faces the camera during a meeting, October 2015.
Arye Dery in October 2015. Alex Kolomoisky

Interior Minister Arye Dery is threatening to build another detention center, in addition to Holot, for incarcerating asylum seekers if the Supreme Court does not approve their deportation to Rwanda and Uganda. To begin with, the court should outlaw the problematic arrangement of sending asylum seekers to countries that according to many reports do not properly protect them. But it turns out that the man who proclaimed his concern for those who are “invisible” is the very same one who continues to abuse people who fled from abhorrent conditions in their homelands, and reached Israel after an agonizing journey.

It seems that Dery intends to continue the wrongful policy of his predecessors regarding asylum seekers. Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber this week admitted that the state has been negligent in examining asylum applications and that there is no justification for not convening the committee that examines these applications. This shows the way the state continues to relate to the asylum issue in two contradictory ways. On the judicial level, the state recognizes the principle of non-repatriation of asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. However, at the same time, the state itself threatens their liberty, denies that they are refugees and wants to get rid of them.

Unfortunately, we cannot take comfort in Dery’s appointment of a chairman to the above mentioned committee, nor in his intention to establish two committees to work simultaneously. That is because the Interior Ministry’s policy on recognition of asylum seekers differs from what is accepted in other counties, where 70 to 80 percent of asylum seekers from Eritrea are recognized as refugees. The fact that the interior minister wants to appoint a criminal attorney, who is not an expert in refugee law, to head the committee, shows the continued treatment of asylum seekers as criminals and “infiltrators.” It raises the suspicion that the new committees will not examine the applications pragmatically.

The solution is not to be found in building more facilities like Holot, or in convening committees that are not expected to fulfill their role properly. The solution is in giving real protection to the asylum seekers in Israel, and more importantly – to granting work permits to asylum seekers already in Israel so they can live with dignity.