Jewish Agency Joins Growing List of Public Opposition to Israel's Deportation of African Asylum Seekers

In unusual show of defiance, the agency urges Israel grant legal status to 500 asylum seekers who arrived years ago as unaccompanied minors

African asylum seekers march from Holot to the Saharonim Prison in the Negev desert on February 22, 2018.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

In an unusual show of defiance, the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency has taken a public stand against the government of Israel and its plans to deport African asylum seekers.

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors published a resolution on Tuesday, at the conclusion of a three-day meeting, urging the Israeli government to grant legal status to 500 African asylum seekers who arrived in the country years ago as unaccompanied minors and were housed, fed and educated in youth villages run by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education.

“These youngsters have grown up in an Israeli educational environment, speak fluent Hebrew, are imbued with Israeli culture, and are loyal to the State of Israel,” the board of governors noted in its resolution. “Therefore, it is right that they be granted legal status.”

The board of governors also called on the Israeli government to ensure that “every migrant has an opportunity to apply for asylum and receive transparent due process in the examination of their application.”

Earlier this month, Israel began sending out deportation notices to thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan. The asylum seekers are being asked to choose between leaving Israel for their home country or another African state, Rwanda, or sitting in prison. The deportations, which at this stage will only affect single men, are scheduled to start in early April, around the time of the Passover holiday.

Noting the “broad attention” the plight of the asylum seekers has drawn from Jews around the world, the board of governors announced the establishment of a special task force that will draft recommendations for resolving the issue.

“This study should be completed as quickly as possible in light of existing deadlines for deportation,” the resolution stated.

With this resolution, the Jewish Agency joins a growing list of Jewish organizations, mainly in the United States, that have implored the government not to follow through with its plans to deport the asylum seekers.