Rise in Asylum-seekers Leaving Israel for West, Especially Canada

Refugees to America’s northern neighbor can apply for citizenship three years after arriving

Asylum seekers from Sudan at the Ben-Gurion Airport before leaving Israel, 2014.
Tomer Appelbaum

The pace of asylum-seekers leaving Israel for Canada is twice what it was last year, according to figures from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The data, being published here for the first time, show that during the first half of 2017, 975 Eritreans and Sudanese nationals immigrated to Canada, compared to 879 in all of 2016. Nearly all of those who left were Eritreans, who receive refugee status in Canada as part of its refugee absorption program. Israel is not involved in their emigration process. Canada gives them residency status immediately upon their arrival, as well as full social benefits, including health insurance. After three years they are given the opportunity to apply for Canadian citizenship.

The population authority figures point to a trend that began last year, with increasing numbers of asylum seekers leaving Israel for Western countries while the number of those leaving for Uganda and Rwanda has dropped. There has also been a drop in those returning to their native Eritrea and Sudan.

All told, since the beginning of the year 2,081 African asylum seekers have left the country, a slight rise from the same period last year. Eighty-eight percent of those who left are Eritrean nationals, 6 percent are Sudanese and the rest are from other African countries. Two-thirds of the Eritreans and Sudanese left for Western countries, while 17 percent immigrated to Uganda or Rwanda and 16 percent returned to their native lands.

The primary way to be absorbed in Canada is for the asylum seeker to be sponsored by a registered organization and a Canadian citizen. The applicant must show that he cannot return to his country of origin and that he has no other long-term option. He must also undergo medical examinations and deposit the equivalent of 25,000 shekels ($6,968), to assure that he will be able to support himself during his first year even if he doesn’t find work. If he doesn’t tap this money, it is returned to him at the end of the year. The registered organization organizes the bureaucratic procedures and the person sponsoring him commits to aid his absorption and help him with his basic needs during his first year in Canada.

Number of asylum-seekers in Israel steadily dropping

The number of asylum seekers in Israel has dropped by around one-third over the past five years. At the end of 2012, when their number was highest, there were more than 56,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries in Israel. Now there are around 38,000. According to population authority data published last month in Haaretz, there are some 15,000 adult asylum seekers in Tel Aviv; 2,300 in Petah Tivka and 1,800 in Eilat. More than 1,000 asylum seekers live in each of the cities Netanya, Ashdod, Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. The locations of 5,000 others are not registered.

Asylum seekers in Israel are under constant pressure from the government, which seeks ways to get them to leave. Two months ago a law went into effect requiring asylum seekers, most of whom earn minimum wage, to deposit 20 percent of their salaries into an account that will be released to them only if they leave the country. Human rights organizations and several asylum seekers petitioned the High Court of Justice against the law, arguing that it is aimed at embittering the lives of asylum seekers and forcing them into poverty under the guise of preserving their social benefits.

The state submitted the data on asylum-seeker emigration to the court earlier this week, to demonstrate that the economic pressure will not force them to leave for countries where their lives are in danger. “The arrangement that is the subject of the petition does not create a ‘pressure cooker’ that eliminates free choice regarding emigration,” wrote attorney Ron Rosenberg from the state prosecution, citing the increasing number of asylum seekers leaving for Western countries, particularly Canada. “It seems that there is no basis for the equation being drawn by this petition to the effect that implementing the law will force Eritrean nationals to necessarily return to Eritrea.”

Chen Bril Egri, who advocates for asylum seekers for Amnesty International Israel, said the state’s response is totally baseless. “The process of immigrating to Canada takes between two to three years,” she said. “This means that people who left for Canada in 2017 started the process in 2014, long before the deposit law. The deposit law definitely creates pressure because people have nothing to live on. Leaving for Canada isn’t an option for someone harmed by the law because it will take him three years to leave here.”