Only One Asylum Seeker Illegally Entered Israel via Egypt in the Past Year

The border fence and tough laws are working, but a key rights group calls the 39,000 asylum seekers currently in Israel a paltry number

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Israel-Egypt border fence
Israel-Egypt border.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Only one asylum seeker has illegally entered Israel from Egypt over the past year a far cry from the situation over the past decade when tens of thousands got through before the border fence was completed in 2012.

The last man who entered and was caught got through last November; before that, the previous incursion happened in April 2016, when three asylum seekers were caught trying to scale the border fence. Until around May 22 last year, 17 people had gotten through 18 for the whole year.

The latest amendment to Israel’s Prevention of Infiltration Law was approved at the beginning of 2016. According to the legislation, people entering illegally are jailed at the Saharonim Prison for three months and then sent to the adjacent Holot facility, where they are held for one year but can leave during the day. After a year in Holot they are released and receive a temporary visa.

Still, they are forbidden from finding employment, and if they violate the rules they can wind up in Saharonim once again.

According to the Population and Immigration Authority, at the end of March more than 39,000 people in Israel had illegally crossed the border from Egypt. Of these, 28,000 were Eritreans, 8,000 were Sudanese and more than 3,000 were from other countries, mostly from Africa.

Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers at the Holot Detention Center in southern Israel, December 8, 2016.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Overall, the entry of more than 64,000 people has been documented, most of them arriving between 2007 and 2012. Since the border fence was completed in the summer of 2012, the numbers have dropped dramatically.

Attorney Michal Pinchock, the chief executive of the group ASSAF that helps refugees and asylum seekers, called the 39,000 “a negligible number compared to the established population of Israel. It’s time to open our hearts and stop being cruel toward asylum seekers living among us, thousands of whom have suffered torture, including women and children.”

Pinchock calls for the cancellation of Israel’s latest move, which went into effect earlier this month: Asylum seekers must deposit 20 percent of their monthly wages into an account they can withdraw on only when leaving Israel. Employers are required to add another 16 percent. 

“Before a humanitarian crisis develops here we can stop taking 36 percent of the wages of asylum seekers who barely make ends meet, who already find it difficult to exist with dignity,” Pinchock said.

Meanwhile, between 2013 and 2016, more than 15,000 African asylum seekers left Israel. The authorities did not deport anyone but put heavy pressure on asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin or countries such as Uganda and Rwanda. Many of them left for the West in programs to absorb refugees or reunite families.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Western countries were the asylum seekers’ main destination last year, mainly Canada. Last year, 1,400 of them left for North America and Europe, an almost three-fold increase from the previous year.

Israel is providing financial perks to get asylum seekers to leave for Uganda and Rwanda, though not in most cases when asylum seekers leave for the West.

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