Israel Sees Drastic Rise in Asylum Requests From Russians

Officials attribute the development mainly to economic incentives and not due to any true need for asylum

The line stretching outside the Population, Immigration and Border Authority office in Tel Aviv, 2017
Moti Milrod

Officials in the Population, Immigration and Border Authority have noticed a new phenomenon – thousands of Russian citizens submitting asylum requests in Israel in order to get work permits.

For years, no Russian citizen filed such a request. However, that changed a few years ago, and according to the authority, 1,344 Russians petitioned for asylum in Israel between January and June of this year.

The authority looks gravely upon this recent trend. Officials attribute the development mainly to economic incentives and not due to any true need for asylum. Officials explain that most of the applicants claim that they are seeking asylum from political persecution, but in practice there are wheeler dealers behind the wave of requests who bring these Russians to Israel, find them jobs and arrange their lodgings. These officials assert that the organizers repeatedly instruct the Russians to file asylum requests to prevent their expulsion.

In recent years, there was a surge of asylum requests filed by Ukrainian and Georgian citizens. The numbers dropped sharply over the past year in light of the authority’s introducing of an expedited process to reject such requests after declaring their home countries to be safe. Russian citizens, like Ukrainian and Georgian citizens, do not require an entry permit to Israel to come here.

“We have noticed a new phenomenon of Russians, who arrive mainly for economic reasons, seeking asylum that worries us and sets off warning lights,” Yossi Edelstein, head of the administration for enforcement and foreign nationals in the population authority, told Haaretz. “The economic situation in Israel is good compared to the situation in Africa or Eastern Europe, and even better than some Western European nations. The wage gaps are enormous and motivate people to come work in Israel.”

Because of the rise in asylum requests, there is also a significant increase in the number of Russian citizens being refused entry into Israel at the airport. Some 2,200 Russian citizens were refused entry during the first half of 2018, compared to 1,400 Russians for all of 2017 – three times last year’s rate. “We are being more diligent at the border crossing and are refusing entry to anyone we suspect of having the intention of entering Israel for reasons other than tourism,” explained Edelstein.

Not one Russian citizen sought asylum in Israel from 2009 through 2012. There were three such requests in 2013, none in 2014 and 14 in 2015. The number began to rise significantly in 2016, when 395 Russians sought asylum in Israel. That number jumped to 635 in 2017. The current pace is quadruple that of last year.