Another Reproach for Israel’s Asylum Seeker 'Policy'

The comptroller's harsh report is welcome, but he should have looked into how the Interior Ministry examines asylum applications as well.

Asylum seekers stand in line in front of the Interior Ministry building in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2014
Asylum seekers stand in line in front of the Interior Ministry building in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2014 Moti Milrod

Even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was celebrating his government’s increasing cruelty to asylum seekers on his Facebook page – where he proudly enumerated how many “infiltrators” he has succeeded in pushing out of Israel – the state comptroller published a harsh report on the government’s policy toward asylum seekers and urged Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to reconsider the legal imprimatur he has granted it. According to the comptroller, the asylum seekers the government can’t deport are suffering from governmental neglect and disregard of their most basic needs, in a way that violates the provisions of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom as well as those of international law, including international conventions on economic, social and cultural rights.

The comptroller’s report highlighted the lack of adequate governmental action plans in the areas of health, welfare, employment, infrastructure and policing. This “has left ‘the people on the ground,’ in both the central and local governments, to contend with difficult dilemmas on a daily basis, without being given instructions that derive from a policy and without the resources necessary to cope,” said the report.

The comptroller also discussed the distress of residents of the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods which have absorbed most of the asylum seekers. “These two groups – citizens and foreigners – are entwined with each other ... The state’s neglect of the members of one group worsens the living conditions of members of the other group and harms them,” he wrote. This statement pulls the rug out from under the racist propaganda of ministers and Knesset members belonging to the parties in power, who justify their incitement against the asylum seekers as stemming from “caring” and concern for the distress of local residents.

The comptroller’s report joins the High Court of Justice ruling in which nine justices unanimously overturned an amendment to the Infiltration Law, before that ruling was circumvented by means of legislation approved by Weinstein. But alongside the comptroller’s justified claims, it’s hard to understand why he didn’t look into the issue of how the Interior Ministry examines asylum applications. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s shameful handling of these applications ought to have been the core of the report. By refraining from addressing this issue, the comptroller gave legitimacy to the state’s evasion of its legal and moral responsibilities toward asylum seekers.