Israel Declares Ukraine Safe, Removing Hurdle to Rejecting Citizens' Asylum Requests

Spike in number of asylum-seekers from Ukraine, whose citizens can enter Israel without a visa, prompted new guidelines

Asylum-seekers wait in line at the Population and Immigration Authority, March 20, 2017.
Asylum-seekers wait in line at the Population and Immigration Authority, March 20, 2017. Moti Milrod

Israel will now be able to reject Ukrainian citizens' asylum requests more rapidly because of new guidelines from the Population and Immigration Authority, which deem Ukraine a safe state.

The guidelines, which go into effect on Tuesday, come after a sharp rise in applications for asylum from Ukrainians; under the new rules, there will be no impediment to returning Ukrainian citizens back to their country.

The last two years have a seen a spike in the number of asylum requests by Ukrainians, who can enter Israel without a visa. Many are brought here by middlemen who promise them work and lodging and advise them to request asylum. Due to the heavy volume, these requests can take years to process and until they are denied, the seekers cannot be deported.

There are currently 20,000 Ukrainian citizens in Israel, 15,000 of whom have applied for asylum. Around 7,000 applications have been filed since the beginning of this year alone. The new guidelines will allow for a more speedy denial of these applications, with no need for a thorough review – the process will now take only a few weeks.

Since fighting with Russian separatists broke out four years ago in several areas of Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry held back on declaring the country a safe space. The ministries recently approved the declaration for all of Ukraine except for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in its east. Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of the Population and Immigration Authority, instructed that all asylum applications be handed over to Yossi Edelstein, the head of the unit responsible for foreign workers and enforcement.

The new rules are based on an opinion written by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Eurasian affairs, Alexander Ben-Zvi, which was drafted after consultations with ministry officials and the Israeli Embassy in Kiev. It states that there has been unrest in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014 due to tensions between Russia and Ukraine, but notes that it has diminished in the last two years. It says that while many Ukrainians had to leave their homes during that period and look for other places to live, including overseas, there are currently no issues with returning Ukrainian citizens to their homeland. “Applications by people from [Donetsk and Luhansk] will be further considered before a final decision is made,” Mor-Yosef wrote Edelstein.

Interior Minister Arye Dery has tried to promote Ukraine as a safe country in recent months, and a ministerial delegation went there to hold discussions with government officials. “Asylum requests by people coming in on tourist visas are the most worrisome problem we’re dealing with these days," said Dery. "We’ll do whatever we can to stop it, by legislation or enforcement. The thousands of applications are a burden on the system, preventing our professionals from dealing with authentic requests.”