Only Single Male Asylum Seekers to Be Deported From Israel, Says Immigration Authority Chief

Families with women and children will be allowed to remain in the country

African asylum seekers protest the Israeli government's plan to deport them, at the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22.
Jack Guez/AFP

Families of asylum seekers with women and children will be allowed to stay in Israel and will not be deported, says Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority. The planned deportation of African asylum seekers, announced by the government, will include only single men of working age, Mor-Yosef said in an interview with the Makor Rishon weekly.

Single men, he said, are the “classic population” of migrants who come to Israel to find work. The fact that they fled their countries “does not obligate us,” Mor-Yosef said, implying that Israel isn’t obligated to give them asylum as refugees.

However, as a signatory to an international convention, Israel is obligated to accord refugee status to those who demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries.

Most of the asylum seekers from East Africa crossed the border on foot, entering Israel from Egypt before the construction of a border fence which stopped the flow. There are currently about 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, and another 5,000 children of asylum seekers. Most of them have temporary residency permits, which they must renew every two months.

Mor-Yosef criticized the growing demonstrations against the plans to expel asylum seekers, saying that those protesting deportation of what he called “the infiltrators” do not know the facts. He accused the organizers of the protests of deliberately spreading misinformation and partial information and bristled at comparisons between the planned expulsion of asylum seekers to Africa and the situation of Jews during the Holocaust, calling the comparison “foolish and manipulative and designed to play upon the State of Israel’s exposed nerves.” The asylum seekers are not refugees and are also not being sent to their deaths,” he said.

When asked if some kind of political group was behind the protest, he said he did not know but did not exclude the possibility. The protests are not always spontaneous, Mor-Yosef said, but he said he did not know who was organizing them.

From the moment that applicants make a request for asylum, the requests are given serious consideration, which can take a lot of time, Mor-Yosef said. “No one will expel them until the handling of their request is completed, meaning that the slow bureaucracy actually protects them.” Every request is individually examined, he said, and they are not considered as a group, citing for example 500 asylum seekers who received temporary resident status in Israel from among 3,000 arrivals from the Darfur region of Sudan, a region in which genocide is underway.

Last week, Olivier Nduhungirehe, the deputy foreign minister of Rwanda, which has been cited as a destination to which Israel would be deporting asylum seekers, said they should not come to his country against their will. He told Haaretz that Rwanda was only prepared to take those who came of their free will and would refuse to accept anyone sent by force.

He also denied that Rwanda has entered into an agreement with Israel to receive asylum seekers, although there have been contacts between the two countries in recent years. For his part, Mor-Yosef declined to comment specifically on the Rwandan deputy minister’s denial but said there was an agreement with Rwanda and Uganda.

Among the protests against plans to expel the asylum seekers was one involving 36 Holocaust survivors who sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that stated that his government had made it a point of reminding the world about the lessons of the Holocaust and therefore they were asking him to put a halt to the planned deportations. A similar call was issued in a letter sent to Mor-Yosef by Israeli doctors and other medical professionals.