Israel Restricts Asylum Requests Despite Being Signatory to UN Refugee Convention

Israeli agency stops setting asylum request appointments, saying it's buckling under influx of applicants; would-be asylum-seekers vulnerable to deportation even though they may be eligible for protection

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
An African migrant covers his mouth with tape during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding asylum and work rights from the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, Israel.
An African migrant covers his mouth with tape during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding asylum and work rights from the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, Israel.Credit: AP
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Population and Immigration Authority has for the past three months restricted the ability to request asylum, even though Israel is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees that obligates it to make the asylum application process accessible.

Many of those who have not been able to request asylum are left without any valid visa and are thus vulnerable to arrest and deportation, even though they may be eligible for protection. Human rights organizations are demanding that all who wish to submit an asylum request be allowed to do so, and have threatened to take legal action if the situation does not improve. The Population Authority insists that they aren’t preventing anyone from submitting a request, but simply cannot handle the volume of applicants.

An asylum request can only be made at the offices of the Population Authority on Salameh Street in south Tel Aviv. The asylum-seeker must come to the unit that handles the requests, fill out forms and submit them, after which he is interviewed. Until August of last year, requests could be submitted every morning. Because of the sharp increase in requests, particularly from Ukraine and Georgia, there were long lines outside the unit; in September and October the asylum seekers could wait for hours outside the authority’s offices and sometimes they would sleep on the sidewalk to make sure they’d be taken the following day.

In November the authority announced new procedures: Asylum seekers could only come to the unit’s offices in the morning, between 7 and 8, and get an appointment for a later date at which they would submit their forms and be interviewed. The appointments were given out by the security guards at the entrance to the building, in the form of a slip of paper with a handwritten date, without the applicant’s personal details. Many were given appointments months later and were told that in the interim, if they were stopped, they should show the note to the immigration inspectors and they would be protected from arrest.

In mid-January the security guards started telling those lining up at the entrance that they were no longer giving out the appointment slips. They were simply told to come at a later date, without knowing if they’d actually be allowed into the unit’s offices. Attorneys and human rights groups contacted the authority demanding clarifications. The authority said it had stopped giving out appointments and that anyone wanting to make a request should appear at the office during work hours. Many of those who line up at the building entrance in the morning, however, are not allowed to enter.

Attorney Reut Michaeli, director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, wrote a letter earlier this month to acting Population Authority director Amnon Shmueli, warning him that the current situation is inconsistent with international law and the authority’s own procedures.

According to the authority, as of February more than 22,000 asylum requests were awaiting processing, most of them from citizens of Ukraine, Georgia, Eritrea and Sudan. Data the authority gave to Haaretz showed that during the first three months of 2017, between 1,600 and 1,900 requests were submitted monthly. Most of these were submitted by people who had been given a slip with an appointment.

“The option of submitting an asylum request has not been blocked and it isn’t clear who is making this false claim,” the Population and Immigration Authority said. “Every day that there are reception hours there are indeed dozens of people lined up because of an illogical increase in the number of asylum seekers from Georgia and Ukraine. Giving out paper slips was an unsuccessful method that led to undesirable results.

“Now, every morning around 100 people who were summoned (who got a paper slip) are seen, along with others who had no appointment, who can be seen if someone with an appointment doesn’t use it. Those who don’t succeed in submitting their request that day come back another time and submit it. We think it would be better to focus on the serious problem posed by the thousands of false applicants, and not on the symptoms of the problem.”

The authority added that the unit would soon be moved to larger quarters, where more people could be seen.

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