Asylum Seekers Threaten Israel’s Identity, Says Foreign Ministry Spokesman

In an interview with the BBC, Emmanuel Nahshon also defends Israel's refusal to grant migrants asylum because it would bring in more asylum seekers.

File photo: Two asylum seekers walk past a fence at the Holot detention facility in the Negev.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

African asylum seekers are a threat to Israeli identity, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told the BBC in an interview last week.

“It’s obvious that we live here in a situation which is rather complex and complicated,” Nahshon was quoted as saying in an article published in the BBC online news magazine, entitled “Israel’s unwanted African migrants.”

“And if you add this element of migrants who come here and who want to stay here — undoubtedly because this is a rich and prosperous country — then it could also become a challenge to our identity here in Israel.”

The BBC reporter, Kathy Harcombe, noted that Israel does not deport Eritrean or Sudanese migrants, which would be a breach of the United Nations convention on refugees. She asked why Israel refused them asylum, to which the Foreign Ministry spokesman replied: “It’s not only about the 45,000 or 50,000 people who already are here in Israel, it’s about the potential. Because those people tell their friends and families back home — ‘Look, this is a very nice place. Do come over.’”

Nahshon also mentioned security as a reason for refusing entrance to migrants: “Open borders through which migrants can pass also mean open borders through which terror organizations can penetrate Israeli territory and commit terror acts,” he said.

Harcombe describes the Holot detention facility in the Negev and the pressure reportedly applied to migrants to leave Israel for Rwanda or Uganda, quoting human rights activists as saying that they are sent to those countries without basic rights. In her article, she tells the stories of an asylum seeker from Darfur who was detained in Holot and of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who were sent to Rwanda and Uganda.

Harcombe describes how documents given to asylum seekers who leave for Rwanda are confiscated at the airport in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, as previously reported by Haaretz. From Kigali, they are taken to a “guest house” where they are forced to stay, and from which they are smuggled into Uganda, where they have no official status.

According to the article, Rwanda has never confirmed that it signed an agreement to accept asylum seekers from Israel, while Uganda has denied that any such agreement exists. The Ugandan government told the BBC that it is investigating how migrants claiming they were sent from Israel entered Uganda.

The BBC found that although Israel reported that 3,000 asylum seekers had left Israel for third countries, only seven — all Eritreans — registered with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees in Rwanda and another eight, most of them Sudanese, in Uganda.