Israeli Foreign Ministry Blasts UN Agency for 'Unhelpful' Remarks on African Migrants

UNHCR representative criticizes Israel's present stance on migrant workers as Africans stage three-day protest.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The Foreign Ministry criticized the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Monday for a representative’s remarks on the government’s attitude toward African migrants.

“Statements on migrant issues that fail to take into account [Israel’s unique situation] are unhelpful and do not contribute to clarify the complex issue, which the government of Israel is handling with the responsibility and seriousness that this situation commands,” the ministry said, in a statement released by spokesman Yigal Palmor.

UNHCR’s representative in Israel, Walpurga Englbrecht, had issued a statement Sunday calling on the Israeli government to change its policies toward migrants and the new law that provides for their detention, saying these “do not live up to the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“The current policy and practices create fear and chaos among asylum seekers, not taking into account their specific situation,” she added. African migrants are taking part in a three-day protest to protest their treatment by the government.

The Foreign Ministry responded Monday that the number of Africans residing in Israel illegally was 53,600. “The sheer numbers, and the range of issues raised, present a significant challenge for the economic and social services of Israel, whose population is 8 million,” the ministry stated.

The ministry noted that the situation in Israel is far more complicated than that of other developed countries.

“Israel is the only developed country with a land border with Africa, which makes it comparatively more accessible for those who wish to enter,” the ministry added. “Moreover, due to Israel’s unique geostrategic situation and the current political instability surrounding its borders, it becomes practically impossible to develop regional cooperative solutions with countries of origin and transit, as is done by other developed countries, such as European countries and the United States.”

Palmor stressed that Israel is trying to strike a balance between controlling its borders and upholding the human rights of those who enter. He added that in keeping with international law, Israel had granted protection to some 60,000 people without each of them needing to prove they had an individual claim to stay in Israel.

“The Population, Immigration and Border Authority, through its Refugee Status Determination unit, has been examining hundreds of demands for asylum, in coordination with UNHCR, which has provided training for the RSD personnel,” Palmor wrote.

“All applications are given thorough treatment, with priority given to those submitted by migrants staying in the Saharonim and Holot facilities [where migrants are being held by the state]. The examination is carried out in accordance with Israel’s international legal obligations, based on the UN Refugee Convention (1951). Enforcement is carried out under Israeli law and in conformity with Supreme Court rulings.”

African migrants hold signs during a protest at Rabin SquareCredit: Reuters

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