Israel: No Asylum Seeker Made It Over Egypt Fence in Six Months

Thousands entered Israel annually until 2012, when the fence was completed and the country’s new law on migrants was passed.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Asylum seekers and other foreign national, in the Holot detention facility in the Negev.
The Holot detention facility. Except for those being held there, rights groups say, asylum seekers are legally allowed to work and earn a living. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Over the past six months not one African asylum seeker has illegally entered Israel by climbing the border fence with Egypt, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority said Sunday.

So far this year only 18 African asylum seekers have entered the country without permits, the authority added. Since the beginning of 2013, only 302 people have made it over the border fence, compared with the thousands who entered Israel annually until 2012, when the fence was completed and the country’s new law on migrants was passed.

Many government ministers, Knesset members and right-wing activists had claimed that the High Court's August 2015 decision to limit the detention period for asylum seekers in the Negev's Holot facility would lead to a new wave of illegal entries. They said asylum seekers would have less of an incentive to leave the country voluntarily.

The new figures show that shortening the maximum detention period in Holot did not significantly affect the rate of illegal entry into Israel and the number of migrants leaving.

“For years they have been scaring the public with a million people who are in the desert on their way to Israel,” said Reut Michaeli, executive director of the group Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

“The reality is that the migration routes have changed, the road to Europe is open and refugees from Africa prefer to risk their lives and go there. The Israeli government’s mistreatment of refugees and the constant threat of imprisonment are enough to pressure the refugees to leave. It’s not mass deportation but slow deportation; something quiet and disheartening.”

As of the end of September, 40,721 people who had entered Israel without a permit lived in the country. These were 29,367 Eritreans, 8,066 Sudanese, 2,780 people from other African countries and 508 from the rest of the world, the Immigration Authority says.

The rate of asylum seekers leaving Israel this year has risen slightly from last year. In the first nine months of the year, 2,798 asylum seekers left Israel, 81 percent of them Eritreans. Asylum seekers who agree to leave the country voluntarily receive a $3,500 grant, and the government pays for the plane ticket.

The latest amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law passed by the Knesset at the beginning of the year states that "infiltrators" who enter Israel illegally are to be detained at the Saharonim detention center in the Negev for three months. After that they are transferred to the nearby Holot facility where they are detained for a year.

They are allowed to leave the facility during the day but must spend the night there, and are not allowed to work. Anyone caught violating the terms at Holot may be jailed at Saharonim. After a year in Holot they are released and receive a temporary residency permit.

Holot can hold 3,360 people and has been at near full capacity for almost a year. The Immigration Authority said last week it would no longer summon to Holot asylum seekers who hail from Sudan’s Darfur region.

The decision was made because most Darfurians in Israel filed asylum requests long ago but have yet to receive replies. The Immigration Authority said some 250 people from Darfur now live in Holot.

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