Fewer Asylum Seekers Are Voluntarily Leaving Israel

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Asylum seekers register with immigration police in Ben Gurion Airport as part of 'voluntary' deportation.
Asylum seekers register with immigration police in Ben Gurion Airport as part of 'voluntary' deportation.

The past year has seen a significant slowdown in the rate of asylum seekers leaving Israel: There was a 47 percent decrease in the number of “voluntary departures” in 2015 compared to 2014, according to a report from the Interior Ministry.

As of the end of 2015, there were more than 43,000 asylum seekers still in Israel; 220 crossed the border from Egypt into Israel last year – a sharp increase compared to the preceding two years. The report also says that there are 91,000 foreigners in Israel who entered the country as tourists and whose visas have since expired, mainly from the former Soviet Union.

In 2015, 3,381 asylum seekers voluntarily left Israel, compared to 6,414 the year before. In the last three months of 2015 there was a steep increase in the number of voluntary departures compared to the rest of the year. A possible explanation for the rise during this period could be the thousands of summons issued for asylum seekers to report to the Holot detention facility.

Apparently, many of them preferred to return to their home countries or to leave for a third country – Uganda or Rwanda – rather than move into the isolated facility near the Egyptian border. The state covers the cost of the flight for the departees, who also receive a $3,500 grant.

The report says that 73 percent of those who left Israel last year were citizens of Eritrea, 18 percent came from Sudan and 9 percent from other African countries. This is a major change from 2014, when about two-thirds of those who left were Sudanese. The report does not specify which countries the departing asylum seekers were headed to.

Data from the Population and Immigration Authority shows that over the past decade, more than 64,000 “infiltrators” entered Israel via the Egyptian border. Of the 43,000 who remain in Israel, 73 percent are Eritreans, 19 percent Sudanese, 6.5 percent from other African countries and 15 percent from the rest of the world.

Most of the asylum seekers who crossed the border into Israel did so between August and November. In December, no one was caught crossing the border from Egypt into Israel. Dozens more were shot to death by Egyptian security forces when they tried to cross the border. This is a steep increase over the preceding two years, in which a total of 64 people crossed the border without a permit. However, the numbers are still far from what they were in the peak years of 2010-2012 – before the border fence with Egypt was built and amendments were enacted to the law for the prevention of infiltration – when more than 10,000 asylum seekers were entering Israel yearly.

According to the report, in the past year there was an increase of just a few percentage points in the number of illegal foreign workers and tourists with expired visas residing in Israel. The authority estimates that there are 16,000 illegal foreign workers in the country, most of them caregivers whose work visas have expired. About 60 percent of the “tourists whose visas have expired” are from countries of the former Soviet Union, while 5 percent are from Romania, 3.5 percent from Mexico and many others come from Egypt, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Nepal and Turkey.

The number of legal foreign workers increased by 3.5 percent last year to 77,200. Of those, 59 percent work as caregivers, 27.5 percent work in agriculture, 9 percent work in construction and 4.5 percent are specialists in various fields. The main increase was in the number of legal foreign workers in caregiving and construction, while there was a decrease in the number working in agriculture.

Last year, the authority deported 3,100 foreigners who were in Israel without a visa. It also opened 936 cases against employers of foreign workers and filed 147 indictments. The authority levied 1,220 administrative fines totaling more than NIS 13 million ($3.3 million) for employing workers without a permit and other violations.

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