Israel's New Interior Minister Vows to Push for Repatriation of 'Infiltrators'

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Bar Peleg
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Asylum seekers protesting in Bnei Brak in May.
Asylum seekers protesting in Bnei Brak in May.Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel’s new interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, said on Monday that she would move to return asylum seekers to their countries of origin and to persuade them to voluntarily leave Israel for a third country.

“It’s a strategic matter. We will protect the borders and the country,” said the Yamina party minister at her handover ceremony. “Israel is a Jewish and democratic country, and I will move with all my might to implement a responsible immigration policy while providing a fair solution for well-founded humanitarian situations.”

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Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had struck a deal with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in April 2018 to end the operation deporting thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda and instead to settle some of them in Israel and some in the West.

However, he scrapped the deal within a day due to pressure from his coalition partners and harsh criticism from the right, including current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Shaked. Sources familiar with the agreement’s details said on Monday that the offer to resettle asylum seekers in Western countries remains on the table but due to the amount of time that has passed since the deal was signed, the UN would have to verify its validity with the receiving countries.

Data from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority indicate that the state either failed to process or rejected 99.7 percent of asylum requests between 2011 and 2019, without fully vetting the applications. Around 11 percent of the requests were rejected out of hand based solely on a short interview without a review by the advisory board for refugee affairs. Most were rejected without explanation, namely “for lack of cause” in the authority’s words.

Ayelet Shaked at the president's residence on Monday.Credit: Emil Salman

A HIAS report based on immigration authority data obtained through freedom of information requests and court petitions found that only 39 of 64,542 asylum requests were approved – 0.06 percent. Another 0.2 percent of requests were rejected after full vetting. 

The High Court of Justice ordered the state in April to decide on asylum applications from Sudanese who fled Darfur, the Nuba Mountains or Blue Nile regions by year’s end. If a decision is not reached by this deadline, the judges ruled, they would order the state to grant these Sudanese nationals temporary residency.

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants called on Shaked to adopt a responsible immigration policy, in which “a transparent and fair asylum system is an integral part.” The NGO added that Shaked should “shake off the dust from the asylum applications that have been pending for too many long years and to do it in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which Israel was one of the first signatories.”

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