Report Shows That African Asylum Seekers Make Up Minority of 'Illegal Aliens' in Israel

92,000 foreigners are in Israel illegally, mostly from former Soviet Union; 37,000 are African asylum seekers

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Tel Aviv, January 22, 2018.
African asylum seekers protesting outside the Rwandan Embassy in Tel Aviv, January 22, 2018.Credit: meged gozani
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

There are about 92,000 foreigners living illegally in Israel – almost 18,000 are working here illegally, and 74,000 came into the country as tourists, mostly from the former Soviet Union, and overstayed their visas, according to a report published on Thursday. The report, updated to the end of 2017 and issued by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, states that approximately 5,800 people were deported from Israel in 2017, nearly 80 percent more than in 2016. Most of those deported were from Ukraine and Georgia.

Requests for asylum were filed by approximately 14,800 people in 2017, 9,500 of whom were Ukrainians and Georgians. The authority instituted a procedure in February that expedited the deportation of Georgians, based on an opinion that the country was safe. A similar procedure was issued in October with regard to Ukraine. After these procedures were approved, the number of asylum applications from citizens of these countries declined precipitously. Israel did not recognize any Ukrainians or Georgians as refugees.

According to the report, there are some 37,000 “infiltrators” living in Israel, a category the report defines as “foreigners who entered Israel illegally through the border with Egypt.” Approximately 26,500 are Eritrean, 7,600 are from Sudan, 2,600 are from other African countries and 600 are from other continents. In 2017, about 3,300 Africans left Israel, about 85 percent of them Eritreans. All told, about 28,000 Africans have left Israel over the past few years. This is the first year in which no one was caught illegally crossing the Egyptian border into Israel.

As opposed to 2014 and 2015, when most of the Eritreans who left Israel went to third countries – Rwanda or Uganda – over the past two years, most left for Western countries. Last year, about 60 percent of those leaving went to a Western country, about 22 percent went to Rwanda or Uganda, and about 18 percent went back to their own country.

There was no change in the rate of departure in the last months of 2017, after Israel announced it had reached an agreement with Rwanda by which it could send asylum-seekers there. Rwanda’s deputy foreign minister told Haaretz this week that there is no such agreement.

There are some 88,000 legal foreign workers in Israel, mostly caregivers or construction workers. The number of legal foreign workers has been rising in the past five years. About two thirds of them come to Israel through human resource agencies and intermediaries; only about a third come through accords between Israel and other countries that are meant to avert illegal fees to middlemen and ensure they are suitably employed.

In the caregiving field, where Israel has no agreements with other countries to bring in large numbers of workers, there are about 50,000 legal workers and another roughly 13,000 illegal workers. Most of them are from the Philippines, India, Moldova and Sri Lanka. Almost all of the 24,000 foreigners employed in agriculture are from Thailand, who came to Israel through an agreement between the Israeli and Thai governments.

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