State Comptroller: Israeli Asylum-seeker Policy May Be in Violation of Law

The report points to the lack of sufficient action plans in the fields of health, welfare, employment, infrastructure and policing. Policy aside, tens of thousands of asylum-seekers will be living in Israel for years to come.

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Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014.
Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The state comptroller’s report, which was published on Wednesday afternoon, levels harsh criticism at Israel’s treatment of asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan.

The state comptroller writes that the state is not providing for the basic needs of foreigners who have been staying in Israel for a long time and cannot be deported, and government policy lacks any plan for dealing with them. The state comptroller warns several times in the report’s chapter on the asylum-seekers that the government’s actions may be in violation of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, with international law or with the UN Global Compact regarding economic, social and cultural rights.

Fearing the implications of the state comptroller’s determination that Israel was violating international law and the compacts it had signed, officials of the Prime Minister’s Office tried to stop parts of the report from being published. Officials of the State Comptroller’s Office said that the final report contained no classified sections.

The report points to the lack of sufficient action plans in the fields of health, welfare, employment, infrastructure and policing. According to the state comptroller, the lack of such plans “left the ‘field operatives’ in the central and local government to deal with difficult, day-to-day dilemmas on their own without any guidance derived from policy and without the necessary means for doing so.”

The state comptroller added that the neglect of the foreigners also had a negative effect on Israeli citizens, mainly the resident of south Tel Aviv. “For all practical purposes, both groups — citizens and foreigners — are bound up with one another, particularly in areas where many foreigners are living. The neglect of members of one group by the state exacerbates the living conditions of members of the other group, and causes them harm.”

The state comptroller emphasized that although the government was working on stopping infiltration into Israel, reducing the number of asylum-seekers in cities and encouraging them to leave the country, it had not put together a plan for dealing with the tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals living in Israel. “For more than five years, various agencies contacted the prime minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Interior Ministry and even the attorney general and the Finance Ministry’s budget department, asking that a policy be defined that would include aspects relating to the treatment of foreigners living in Israel outside the detention centers and that resources be allocated to carry it out. But none of them included a concrete answer to the demand to set a governmental policy regarding the treatment of foreigners living in Israel who were not living in detention centers.”

“The solutions adopted by the government, including taking the foreigners to a third country, having them leave Israeli voluntarily and establishing detention centers, could reduce the number of foreigners living in Israel. But even if those solutions are carried out, tens of thousands of foreigners will still be living here, outside the detention centers, over the coming years,” the report stated. In this context, the state comptroller adds that Saharonim Prison and the Holot detention center have a capacity of 9,000 foreigners, which is less than 20 percent of the number of asylum-seekers living in Israel.

For that reason, he says, the government’s solutions do not negate the need to set policy regarding the living conditions of asylum-seekers in Israel and to allocate a budget for the required work. The state comptroller charges the interior minister and the justice minister with the task of “drafting, as soon as possible, a proposed resolution in principle whose implementation will assure a minimum level of dignity for all the foreigners who cannot be deported, and make sure that it meets the requirements of the law.” He added that they must bring the proposal up for discussion in the cabinet.

On the day that the comptroller's report was issued, an illustration was posted on the prime minister's Instagram account reading: "In the past year, from May 2013 to April 2014, 5,827 infiltrators left Israel. In the same period, 0 infiltrators entered Israel's cities."

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