Knesset Report: Gov't to Blame for Abuse of Asylum Seekers

A new Knesset report finds government shortcomings in dealing with asylum seekers who cross illegally into Israel from Egypt.

Dana Weiler-Polak
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Dana Weiler-Polak

A new Knesset reports says government shortcomings in dealing with asylum seekers who infiltrate into Israel and failure to ensure their rights have led to their abuse, including human trafficking and their being forced to work in slave conditions.

The report, prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center, establishes that most of those who enter Israel illegally from Egypt are asylum seekers - refuting the claims of officials who say most of them are migrant workers.

The report was prepared at the request of National Union MK Yaakov Katz, chairman of the Knesset committee on foreign workers ahead of its next meeting.

Sudanese asylum seekers in the Negev in 2007.Credit: Alex Levac

While the number of such infiltrators increased in 2010, the rise has been moderate, the report says, contrary to Katz's statements that 1,200-1,500 people infiltrate into Israel monthly.

The report says 8,698 asylum-seekers entered Israel in 2008; 4,827 asylum seekers in 2009; and 5,291 entered by mid-May 2010.

In 2009, Yaakov Ganot, then head of the Population and Immigration Authority, said 24,000 asylum seekers were registered in Israel. At the committee's meeting in March this year authority head Amnon Ben-Ami said there were 21,000 of them. At the beginning of May the infiltrators numbered 24,339 - 5,649 of them Sudanese and 13,310 Eritreans.

Eighty-percent of the infiltrators are entitled to group protection. This means Israel recognizes 18,959 people as asylum-seekers, who are immune from deportation.

The Israel Defense Forces, which captures most of the infiltrators, is supposed to send them to the Saharonim compound within 10 days. Initially intended to hold 100 internees at the most, the compound accommodates 2,000 today and is completely full. The women's wing has some 200 places. Ten days ago 172 women and 48 children - 37 of them unaccompanied - were incarcerated in the facility. Only four Israel Prison Service social workers are employed in the compound.

The rise in the number of infiltrators and the crowded conditions have created several problems. The Health Ministry's budget for inoculations has run out. The report says some 250 women have complained of being raped and assaulted.

The people entitled to humanitarian protection receive a temporary "staying" visa. So far 16,766 asylum seekers have been granted this visa and 2,179 have received a work visa. The people holding "staying" visas are not forbidden from working, and the Justice Ministry has advised employers that no steps will be taken against them for hiring foreigners.

However, so far the authorities have not enforced labor law against employers, despite many asylum seekers' complaints of not being paid, the report says.

The minors staying in Israel have rights by virtue of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but every ministry takes action in a different way, the report says.

The Education Ministry recognizes all asylum seekers' children's rights regarding education. The Health Ministry enables their parents to ensure them in the Meuhedet HMO for NIS 200 a month. The Social Affairs Ministry only deals with asylum seekers' children in emergency cases.

"The infiltrators who may not be deported have no rights and no framework except the right to stay here and the right to work. The lack of dealing with them in a systemic way, faulty supervision of labor relations and the failure to assist those who need help cause acts of violence and crime within this community," the report says. It further concludes that these failures "cause human trafficking, work in slave conditions and coercion of and among these people."

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