Despite State Pressure, Number of Asylum Seekers Agreeing to Leave Israel Drops in 2018

In each of the first three months of the year, around 200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers left Israel, while in 2015 to 2017 the average monthly number was around 255

Asylum seekers march during a protest outside Israeli Prison Saharonim, in the Negev desert, southern Israel, February 22, 2018
Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Since the beginning of 2018 the number of asylum seekers agreeing, under state coercion, to leave Israel has dropped by 21 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

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In each of the first three months of the year, around 200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers left Israel as part of a plan for what the state calls voluntary departure. In 2015 to 2017 the average monthly number was around 255.

The plan gives people leaving a plane ticket and $3,500. The state informed the High Court of Justice this week that since early April asylum seekers were continuing to depart by agreement, with 16 more added to those leaving the country.

The state announced on Monday that after the collapse of the agreements with Uganda and Rwanda, it cannot forcibly expel people to these countries, but that agreed-upon departures will continue. “When each person renews his residence permit he will be offered the option of departing voluntarily, without hinging the renewal on agreeing to do so,” says the state’s update on asylum seekers, which was submitted to the court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that the state is preparing to immediately reopen detention facilities for asylum seekers. He added that he would push for passage of an amendment allowing the Knesset to override High Court rulings, a move that would enable the opening of these prisons.

Last week 204 asylum seekers were released from Saharonim prison following instructions by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. His decision came after the negotiations with Uganda failed to find a solution. The Prison Service says 50 asylum seekers remain in prison, some for criminal offenses.